A PROGRESSIVE REVELATION
BY S.L. MORGAN, SR.
Alan Morgan Jackson
106 West Alexandria Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301
Copyright 1985 by S. L. Morgan. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Readers are authorized to reproduce this book freely, in whole or in part, provided that 1) duplication is for an educational purpose in a not-for-profit institution; 2) copies are made available without charge beyond the cost of reproduction; and 3) each copy or extract includes full citation of the source.
Samuel Lewis Morgan of Virginia, who graduated in 1899 from Richmond College (now University of Richmond), and Crozer Seminary (now Colgate Rochester, Bexley Hall, Crozer Seminary), spent most of his life pastoring churches in North Carolina. A warm and devoted pastor, he was also a dedicated student of the Bible, keeping up his Greek and Hebrew studies throughout a long ministry. In his later years he was a prolific writer for the religious press and a constant letter-writer. His correspondence, writings, and personal papers are in the Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Throughout his long life (1871-1972) of nearly 101 years he was a crusader for social justice in all realms of life, and above all a devoted seeker of truth and a consecrated Christian.
For many years he had felt the need of a book on Biblical interpretation on the level of the ordinary church member, and in his 80's he devoted himself to the task of writing such a book. But many publishers felt that the questions of Biblical interpretation he addressed had already been put to rest. Consequently, his book was never published and has languished in his files for all these years.
Recent history has proved them wrong. A new generation now struggles with conflicting interpretations of the Bible. The tragic dissension in his own beloved Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) concerning Biblical interpretation is only one example of the much wider, cross-denominational controversy concerning Biblical interpretation. Convinced that his thirty-year-old manuscript still speaks to today's problems, some of his children and grandchildren have felt it worthwhile to get his manuscript in shape for limited distribution. Provided attribution is given, the reader is encouraged to freely reproduce or borrow from this book, sharing it with fellow congregation or class members.
This manuscript is essentially as Mr. Morgan wrote it, with only a very few changes of words or phrases here or there to make it sound less dated. Much of the last chapter, written three decades ago, his been essentially unchanged, although, since it deals with the political and social scene at the time of Mr. Morgan's writing, might well have been modified or changed by him if he were here now.
These of the family send this forth as a tribute to one whose faith and courage and love blessed them, and with the prayer that through his words as written long ago he may guide and bless those who now struggle to find truth as revealed through Jesus himself.The Children and Grandchildren ofS. L. MorganSeptember 1985
This book aims to offer the plain man a view of the Bible he can deeply believe and delight in. It grows out of the author's lifelong experience as a student and teacher of the Bible. First were his long years of painful, futile groping for a way to reconcile the Old Testament stories of a God who did and sanctioned many unethical and cruel things with the Father revealed by Jesus, who was forever holy, forgiving and loving. Then came the delightful view, like a flash of insight from heaven, that those ideas of an unethical, cruel God were only the views of God once held by a primitive people, views, rising through hundreds of years and finally merging into the concept of God declared by Jesus; he had never changed, only men's view of him had changed.
This, the author shows, is a main key to understanding the Bible-a "progressive revelation" and understanding of God and his will. This does away with the moral tension between the Old and the New Testament, and makes the greatest book in the world a consistent and delightful whole, its contradictions resolved.
Part One shows that the intrinsic worth of the Bible contents, growing ever richer through centuries, their ethical and spiritual concepts ever rising higher, are themselves proof to the spiritual sense that they came from God, needing no theory of inspiration to bolster them. Yet these contents bear the clear marks of incompleteness, ever looking to Christ who would come as their "fulfillment." Christ thus becomes the yardstick by which to measure and judge all previous moral and spiritual concepts.
Part Two shows the meaning of Bible revelation and how God inspired the Bible, his means and method of inspiring it, and the impossibility of our interpreting the Bible literally, "word for word."
Part Three shows how prayer and miracle fit into the Bible scheme of progressive revelation, with Christ towering as the supreme miracle and consummation of all previous revelation.
The book frankly faces the fact that the unchangeable God and Father of Jesus never could in any remote past have done any unethical or cruel act or miracle-a view of God held to be of the most vital concern to all Christendom, if we are to win in the titanic world-battle with the waxing religion of Communism. Why put on Christianity and its Bible the impossible burden of a Christian God, who by any literal interpretation of the Bible once did immoral and cruel acts and miracles? Not thus can our religion and its Bible win in a battle to the death! In such a battle literalism becomes a fatal handicap!
The author hereby acknowledges an immense debt of gratitude to certain individuals: first, to James I. Miller, devoted layman and Bible student and former parishioner, without whose encouragement and prodding and proffered secretarial help this book would not have been written; to Dr. E. McNeill Poteat, able minister, scholar, author, former seminary president, whose sympathetic criticisms have constantly inspired and held me to my task; to Dr. E. Norfleet Gardner, whose Foreword bespeaks the happy results he experienced in teaching the Bible as a progressive revelation especially to college students; to Dr. George D. Heaton, who likewise reports his delightful experience of results achieved in his teaching the same view to a great church; to Dr. C. H. Brannon, noble layman, Bible student and author, whose criticism of my manuscript has been of great value; last, to Dr. W. R. Cullom, founder and dean for many years of the school of Bible in Wake Forest College, whose devotion to the principle of progressive revelation has so frankly lighted his path through many years.
This is not to imply that the last named nor any other gives a blanket endorsement to what I have written. All named would differ with me often. For even that I am sincerely grateful.
I send the book forth with the hope and prayer that it may do for many what the study has done for me, to make the Bible stand out in a new light, God's revelation shining through the words of the Book from beginning to end, beautiful, consistent, life-giving, its center forever Christ the Living Word.
S. L. MORGAN, SR.
Wake Forest, N.C.
June 12, 1954
It is one thing to refer to the Bible as a best seller. That may be because it is the mark of good breeding to have a Bible at hand. Perhaps there may be some special blessing attached to having a copy in the house. After all, one's faith may have its basis in Scripture. It is quite another thing to have an intelligent understanding of the Scripture, to hide it in one's heart that one may keep from sin, to hold it so that it may be a lamp unto one's feet. Too many people fail to use it thus.
It is discouraging to many who have opportunity to discuss the Bible with thoughtful persons to see how utterly bewildered they are with reference to its importance. In their thinking too often this Book is mixed with antiquated ideas, with codes outmoded, or as having no application beyond the Jewish race for which those ideas were formed. Many have never moved beyond the idea of an anthropomorphic God, who walks all too much in human form across the early pages of the record. Surely God must be more than that, or He cannot find place in this growing knowledge.
I have known parents who endeavored at an early age to guide their children in a study of the Bible as a gradual unfolding of the knowledge of God and His workings with people. In the Old Testament this was a slow process, but a definite progression from the God of the first chapter of Genesis to the spiritual conception of Isaiah and Micah. I have seen teachers wrestle with the problem facing confused college students, for whom only a literalistic interpretation had been handed down. For weeks and months it seemed that, tossed about in their thinking, they felt the old faith was being destroyed; but I have seen those same students with happy faces and confidence in God and the Book as His Word, when it became for them the progressive revelation of truth. I have seen men and women in business and in the home pursuing their way without the help of a living Bible, seeking in vain to find a stalwart faith.
The author of The Bible: A Progressive Revelation has gone a long way toward aiding the stumbling feet of young people and adults. With reverence he has approached the Scripture as God's inspired Word. Its spiritual values are enhanced by turning the key which he has designated as progressive revelation. This book will help many who are seeking an understanding of the Bible to make it for themselves God's living Word.
E. Norfleet Gardner
THE BIBLE SELF-AUTHENTICATING
The Intrinsic Quality of Its Contents
Preliminary to a discussion of Bible revelation I offer some reasons that satisfy me that the Bible itself is indeed a Book from God. That conviction I base, not on any claim the Bible makes for itself, nor on any theory of inspiration, but solely on a unique quality of its contents, and the response these contents win in the human heart and conscience. That is the scientific approach: examine the contents; let them speak for themselves. Thus the Bible proves itself divine to the reverent reader, with no need for external bolstering.
I would prove the Bible divine in the same way I would prove the divinity of Christ. It is the method Jesus himself proposed, "Come and see" (John 1:46; 20:27).
It is precisely the method employed by E. Stanley Jones before a group in India when he sought to establish the claim of Christianity as worthy to be the supreme religion. He stoutly held to one point: "Christ is Christianity; there he is; examine him, do your worst to him; if he stands, Christianity stands with him." All criticisms fell flat before the majestic "fact of Christ." As Jones left the lecture hall, a Christian woman said to him, "I'm physically exhausted; I've been clutching the seat for two hours, wondering what they'd ask next, fearing you'd fail to make good the claims of Christianity under fire from those keen minds."
Jones answered, "I've been having the time of my life. I was perfectly sure Christ could take care of himself, if only the issue were held on him" (The Christ of the Indian Road, pp. 139-141).
I confidently propose the same method for establishing the Bible as a book from God. One needs only to say to all critics, "There is the BOOK. Do your worst to it. Take all props away from it; it will stand of itself. It will prove itself the anvil on which all hammers of criticism will wear themselves out!"
Theories of divine inspiration generally have been peripheral. They have missed the heart of the matter. An adequate theory of inspiration must penetrate beneath the words of the Bible, beneath its literature and history, and find in it an inner essence that satisfies the reverent reader that therein God is not merely speaking inspired words, but is doing inspired deeds and revealing inspired truths. This chapter accordingly aims, first, to probe beneath the words of the Bible text to discover that inner essence which in the words of Coleridge, "finds" the human heart and conscience; second, to show that the form and style of the Bible strangely reinforces the appeal of its inner message; and, third, to show that the two combined make to the reverent reader an appeal unique among all the books of the world.
Ideas of Extraordinary Intrinsic Worth
There are several ideas in the Old Testament and several in the New that constitute the inner essence of the Bible, and that are uniquely fitted to meet the essential needs of man, always and everywhere.
In his penetrating book The Religious Ideas of the Old Testament, the late English Bible scholar, H. Wheeler Robinson, named four ideas running through the Bible, which for originality and intrinsic value are nothing less than epoch-making in the thinking of the race. Their intrinsic worth lies in the fact that they give satisfying answers to the four most baffling questions that have ever engaged the minds of men: Is there a God, and, if so, what is he like? What and Why is man? Why human suffering? Dare we have hope for a kind future?
Those questions are ultimate in man's quest for truth. And it is fundamentally because the Bible, as no other book in the world, gives us comparatively satisfying answers to those baffling questions, that it "finds us" as no other book. The answers to those questions and certain others in the New Testament, as we shall notice, constitute the life-giving stream of divine revelation running through the Bible, and satisfy us that it is a book inspired of God:
Four Revolutionary Ideas in the New Testament
Besides these four ideas running through the Old and the New Testaments, there are four revolutionary ideas in the revelation of Jesus that constitute the essence of the New Testament, and indeed the deeper essence of the Bible as a whole: (1) The idea that God is a loving, holy Father, ever alert to hear the cry of his child, ever ready to forgive, to save, to give man the needed help to live divinely; (2) The idea that Jesus is God incarnate, the mirror reflecting what God is like, the image of what man may become, and the perfect yardstick by which to measure all character, all conduct; (3) The idea that God as a personal Spirit is ever present with man and in man, empowering him to attain in human measure to the perfect ideas presented in the character and conduct of Jesus the Divine Man; (4) The idea that vicarious sacrifice, so clearly glimpsed by Hosea and Isaiah, is actually the supreme force known to earth or heaven for moving the heart of man and winning a universal response; it finds its supreme expression in the suffering of Christ for men, its acme in the sacrifice of the Cross.
These ideas "fulfilled"-they filled to the full-all the noblest ideas glimpsed by the noblest prophets of the Old Testament. These ideas blazed out like the sun in the twilight of the world, giving light and warmth to struggling pilgrims in the present life, and lighting the darkness that for ages had hung over the future life. If God was a Father, loving, forgiving, and always alert to the cry of his child, then rightly fear was gone from religion, gone from life, gone from death and the unknown beyond. If the sinless, flawless Man of Galilee, at once our Model and our Brother, lived divinely above sin and hate, and found his highest fulfillment in sacrificing and suffering to the death for others, so also may every son of man without limit, the Spirit of God ever present and empowering one within.
And actually it was the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, symbolized by the Cross, that mastered the early disciples and made them the devoted slaves of Christ. Paul expressly declared this to be the "constraint" upon his life (II Cor. 5:14). The "glory of the cross" became the triumphal note in the Hymns of the Church, and the watchword of the martyrs going to their death. It put a glory about all suffering for Christ's sake. It strangely transfigured suffering itself, making it a thing no longer to be feared and hated, but to be used as a stepping-stone, even as Jesus used it as a stepping-stone to victory and a crown. Moreover, the human life of vicarious sacrifice and suffering was lifted by the example of Jesus to the place of supreme worth for man on earth. Such a life was proved divine and eternally worth-while; for God by raising Jesus from the dead put his stamp of approval upon such a life-upon "the eternal worth of a Christ-like man," and equally also upon the success of such a life. For the shameful death of Christ seemed the most tragic failure in all history-until he rose from the dead victor, and thus turned the tables on the Devil and all the powers of evil, and turned the cross into the world's mightiest dynamic.
These ideas, and especially vicarious suffering in Christ and his followers, arrested the attention of heathenism, slowly altered the power of the Roman Empire, and became the most revolutionary force in human society. These ideas constitute the very essence alike of the New Testament revelation and of the Christian religion, and are essentially the force that wins a unique response from the human heart and conscience, and satisfies the devout soul that the Bible is inspired and divine, in need of no other proof.
The Unique Form and Style of the Bible Writings
We now take up the second of the questions raised as to why the Bible has a unique power to win a response from the human mind and heart. The unique power of the Bible to find us is due also to something extraordinary in the form and style in which it was written.
Of all views of inspiration the shallowest is the view that God "inspired," or somehow dictated, the words of the Bible, as some others claim for their sacred writings. Deeper than the words, deeper than the form of the literature, if we are to hold an adequate theory of inspiration, we are to see an inspired people and an inspired history.
The Jewish Nation an Inspired People
It seems safe to hold that God's first step toward inspiring the Bible was his inspiring the Hebrew people, and thus fitting them to produce the Bible. To human eyes the Hebrews alone of all the peoples of the earth were capable of producing the Bible. This is true particularly of the Old Testament. Of all ancient peoples they alone had certain characteristics essential to producing a book so intensely moral and religious, so vivid, so picturesque, so fitted to go home to the mind and heart of the race. Some of the characteristics of the people and their book are indicated below:
The Bible Authenticated in History and Experience
There remains a final test of the Bible as a book from God: the results in history and experience. The story of what the Bible has accomplished is one of the most thrilling known to mankind, and is without a parallel among all the books of the world.
The Jews a Monument to the Power of the Old Testament
The Old Testament Hebrews were the people of a Book, and their Scriptures made them a unique people. H. Wheeler Robinson says (Religious Ideas of the Old Testament, pp. 29, 45), the Old Testament was "undoubtedly the most profoundly moral book which antiquity can offer," and that it was the "moral intensity" produced and kept alive by the Old Testament Scriptures that, "more than anything else, lifted the religion of Israel above that of all its contemporaries." The Jews therefore are a monument to their Scriptures and to the religion which those Scriptures produced.
And those Scriptures passed down to become for years the only Bible of the Christians. Those Scriptures powerfully influenced Jesus and the early disciples. Soon their Scriptures were baptized and made new in the warm stream of revelation produced by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and the pentecostal outpouring that followed. From this warm stream the early Church drank and received an unearthly power to resist successfully wave after wave of demonic persecution, power to pray in death for those that butchered them, power to outlive and outdie the heathen, and slowly to win them to be disciples. They went on living and dying yet multiplying for 300 dreadful years, and in 313 A.D. won from Constantine the famous edict that made Christianity a preferred religion. Central in it all is the power of an amazing Person and an amazing Book-the Old Testament and the slowly-forming New Testament. Enemies of these clearly perceive that the power of Christianity was kept alive largely by the Scriptures, and for years these enemies scoured the Empire to search out and burn the Christians' sacred books. That they were too successful is attested by the fact that very few Bible manuscripts are extant from these three centuries of persecution.
A typical story of this period, showing the remarkable love of the Christians for their Bible., is that of Timothy, deacon and keeper of the Scriptures of his church in Mauritania. The governor demanded of him on trial that he give up the Scriptures to be burned. He answered, "Had I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed than to part with the word of God." His eyes were put out, and he and his wife were crucified (Fox's Book of Martyrs, J. C. Winston ed., p. 41).
The Bible Tested in Christian Experience
The most significant thing revealed by the suffering of this period and of every other dark period of Christian history is that the Bible grows dearer as human need grows greater, it becoming most precious to a people in time of affliction and trial. Affliction eats through the surface, exhausts mere human resources, and lays bare the deeper needs and desires of the soul for God and spiritual truth. It is deeply significant that in such times of trial individuals and peoples have usually found the Bible precious and able to supply uniquely the needs of the soul. So the early Christians amid these dreadful persecutions found the Bible their food and drink, their comfort and joy and strength. From the deeps of the Bible there springs eternal a well of joy at which the Christian in time of trial finds he may drink and be satisfied. That millions have found it uniquely so in all the dark periods of history is itself an unanswerable argument that the Bible is divine and fitted to meet the deepest human need.
Two striking instances of this truth's operating in modern history may be cited. One is from the days of Wycliffe and Tyndale in England, when men so loved the Bible that often they suffered torture and burning at the stake as a penalty for reading it. Life was drab and hard, laws tyrannical. The people of England longed for comfort from the Bible, and Wycliffe translated it for the first time into their own language. He believed that the story of the simple Man of Galilee in their own tongue would be the best antidote to the vaunting airs of the priests and the tyranny of the pope and even of the Church. But to make a copy of the Bible by hand took nearly a year, and the skins of 200 animals for parchment. The cost of a Bible therefore was about $200, beyond the reach of all but the well-to-do.
Yet there was such a hunger for the Word that the historians of the time give us incidents of persons who worked and saved for years, and then walked on long journeys to buy and bring home a precious copy of the Bible. Farmers would sometimes give a "load of hay" for the privilege of reading a neighbor's Bible an hour a day for a certain period. One Alice Collins would be sent for to go to various gatherings to recite from memory the Ten Commandments and passages from the New Testament (Smyth, How We Got Our Bible, pp. 75-76). The English historian Green quotes one as saying in the time of Tyndale that Englishmen were so eager to own a New Testament in print that they said they would buy one if they had to pay 100,000 pieces of money for it.
At length it was made a crime in England to read the translations of Wycliffe and Tyndale, and some were burned alive with their Bibles chained round their necks. But soon Tyndale from his hiding place in Germany smuggled printed New Testaments by the thousand into England, to be read eagerly by the masses. And the historian Green declares that the general reading of the Bible literally changed the whole moral tone and quality of the English people, and prepared the way for the great religious awakening under the Wesleys.
A striking modern example of the transforming power of the Bible has been told by our service men returning from the South Seas. Many of them had become skeptical about the Bible and religion, and had given up church-going. And then they were thrown on the shores of some of the islands once notoriously given to head-hunting and cannibalism. At first sight of the wild-looking fuzzy-headed natives, they hid away from them in fear. But soon our service men heard them speaking to them in friendly English, singing Christian hymns, and inviting them to worship in their churches. They found them often beautiful Christians, ready to risk their lives for the men whom their fathers as cannibals would have devoured. Many of our boys came back home anchored anew to God and the Bible, to be devoted supporters of the church and its foreign missions program (See Van Dusen's They Found the Church There).
All round us daily are the evidences of the transforming power of the Bible. William Lyon Phelps, in Reading the Bible, gives a strong array of evidence, as does Nelson in his valuable book, Our Roving Bible. Phelps declares that the Bible has had "a greater influence on the course of English literature than all other forces put together," even saying it is "the foundation of Anglo-Saxon civilization." He reminds us that the very finest we have in music and art was inspired by the Bible. An example in music is Handel's Messiah, which was born in the soul of the musician when, as he declares, he actually saw with Isaiah the Lord high and lifted up.
Macaulay said the eloquence of English political speech was "the eloquence of men who had lived with the first translation of the Bible." William Lloyd Garrison said a thing obviously true, that, if we take away the Bible, all the crusading spirit will be taken away from our efforts against oppression, injustice, impurity, and every other vice; for only the Bible condemns evil with the recognized force of authority. The entire structure of our civilization-its morality, its demand for justice and equal rights, its insistence on the eternal worth of personality-all would be undermined but for the sanction supplied by the authority of the Bible, with its insistent demand, "Be ye holy, for I am holy."
We conclude that, by the test of results alone, the Bible is the supreme force in the world, next only to the Spirit of God and to the Church, which minister its truth to men. The essential truth of the Bible, authenticated by our own experience and by the results seen in history, constitutes an unshakable foundation for our faith that the Bible is uniquely a Book from God.
GOD'S REVELATION PROGRESSIVE
By examining the contents of the Bible in Chapter I we discovered in them an intrinsic worth "almost divine"; and the appeal of that "divine" something frankly satisfied the present writer, like many other persons, that the Bible is indeed a book from God.
A further study of the Bible contents in Chapter II discovers in them a quality so distinctly human as both to disturb us and to pose what is the most vexing problem of Biblical interpretation.
This disturbing human quality forces itself on our attention especially in the earliest portions of the Old Testament. To begin with, it is obvious that not all portions of the Bible are on the same moral and spiritual level, nor of equal value. No theory of Bible inspiration, for example, can make Ecclesiastes, with its cynicism and pessimism, seem as truly inspired, or of as high value, as the twenty-third psalm or the Sermon on the Mount. Nor can anyone with a clear moral sense believe for a moment that the book of Joshua, with Jehovah represented as leading Israel in a war of conquest and extermination, is on so high a moral level as the Gospels, which show Jesus living and dying to teach men to love and suffer even for enemies.
The first essential, therefore, for a sound interpretation of the Bible must be a clear recognition that, in the older portions of the Bible, God was seeking to reveal himself and his will to a people with vague, inaccurate, and often wrong, concepts of God, and of truth and right. For always God the Revealer had to deal with each man as he found him; that is, as a man in history, and conditioned by his own inherited ideas, his training and environment. In every case God's self-revelation was limited by each particular man's capacity and readiness to receive and to respond to what God sought to reveal. Always God sought to reveal himself fully, but was hindered by the poor receiving subject. Always it was God loving, yearning to be understood and loved, and always man slow to respond with understanding, trust, and love; always a yearning suffering Father, and ever a straying "prodigal son." Precisely this is what the Bible is all about.
God Confronting a Primitive People
In the earliest Bible records God is confronting a people far down in the moral and spiritual scale, a people with the dimmest, crudest ideas of God and of his will and purpose for man. No people can rise higher than the God they believe in and worship; and the God of the earliest Bible records is represented as a God who, while great enough to create "the heavens and the earth," was still a God pictured as often showing human and evil passions. Also the people pictured in the earliest Bible stories are pictured as mere children in their understanding of God and truth and right. Even Abraham, the noblest of the Bible patriarchs, is no exception.
When the curtain rises on Abram, we see him as a man of his own time and place, conditioned by the beliefs and mores of the people about him. If he was a man devoted to God, and a rare gentleman in his dealing with his nephew Lot, he is nevertheless seen as a man selfishly lying and deceiving the king of Egypt, using his handmaid Hagar as a concubine with his wife's consent, and having a child by her. Like many of his time, he believed that on occasion God would be pleased with a human sacrifice, even that of his own son Isaac. Yet for all this, Abraham was a prince and saint among all the peoples of his time, rising in moral grandeur above them like a mountain peak above the plain. And to his everlasting credit, he had an open mind, ready to hear and follow God in faith, when once he knew God's will; and by this he achieved immortality among the immortals of all time.
From such lowly beginnings as these God through many centuries continued, "by divers portions and in divers manners" (Heb. 1: 1) to pass on new concepts of truth to prepared saints and seers, prophets and poets, they in turn enlightening and lifting toward their own level the people of their day. Through ages it continued to be the story of the ever patient Teacher and the slow learner, the light remaining dim till "in the fullness of time" God himself came in human form to a little Roman province. Then all at once it was given to man to see what God had been trying for ages to reveal: God in human form in Jesus of Nazareth, who was God-in-the-flesh.
All along this Divine-human confrontation was primarily a process of self-revelation on the part of God. Always taking the initiative was God, he always the patient, yearning wooer, seeking to be known and loved, man always slow to understand and to respond. This is the unvarying tone of all the Bible seers and prophets: "God appeared," "God spoke," "God revealed," God from the first and forever seeking to make himself fully known, but hindered by man's "hardness of heart," and his dullness and slowness to learn. God's last hope was for himself to come in a human form so lovely and winsome that men would listen and love and surrender to one who loved them to the death. Jesus came and in his own person and in his deeds of love showed the ultimate of what God is like. This again in a word sums up what all the Bible is about.
A Progressive Revelation
This age-long process from a very dim revelation and apprehension of God to an ever-completer revelation in Jesus Christ-this is what we shall mean in this book by "progressive revelation." The English Bible scholar C. H. Dodd in his book The Authority of the Bible calls one chapter (XIII) "Progressive Revelation." The expression looks back to a time in the childhood of the race when men had only the crudest ideas of God and his ways, yet with all ideas growing more clear and accurate as God progressively revealed himself to saints and prophets, reaching at last a grand consummation in the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth.
This chapter aims to illustrate from the Bible record this process upward from the earliest Bible time to its consummation in Christ. The study will show that, parallel with the unfolding concept of God, there came on the part of man an ever clearer apprehension of all moral and spiritual truth.
The Unfolding Concept of God
The most basic and essential objective in all the Bible revelation is God's self-disclosure of what sort of God he is. And the Bible story begins with a concept of God in keeping with the childhood of the race, a concept held by Israel's early ancestors, much of it held in common with other ancient peoples. The earliest Bible records picture God as an artificer shaping Adam and Eve with his hands out of clay (other ancient peoples preserved pictures of him in the act); he talked with them as friends; he came to them "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3: 8); he visited Abraham, sitting down to a meal with him, and telling his plans (Genesis 18: 1-15). The famous Negro drama Green Pastures pictures somewhat truly this primitive concept of God. Men ascribed to God their own passions: he "repented" of making man, and destroyed him with a flood (Genesis 6: 6, 7); he was often "angry" and punished men. He was a local and tribal God; he loved Israel as his favorite people, and hated their enemies, declaring, "I will be an enemy to thine enemies" (Exodus 23: 22). He is called a "man of war," leading Israel to battle, sometimes ordering the slaughter of enemies even to the "infant and suckling" (I samuel 15: 3). He "hardened the hearts" of the Canaanites, "to come against Israel to battle, that he might utterly destroy them" (Joshua 11:20). He "sent a pestilence" on Israel and killed 70,000 of them because David displeased him by taking a census (II Samuel 24: 15).
Such passages merely reflect the concept of God held by a primitive people. Many centuries later Jesus would say, "They of old time" thought these things about God, "but I say unto you . . . ," and Jesus proceeded to give them a different concept of God; he was a God who loves sinners and suffers to redeem them from sin, ever longing for them to come to him and receive forgiveness.
Through all the intervening centuries, from Adam to Christ, Israel's concept of God grew ever clearer, as seer and prophet and poet came through deep experience to know him as holy and righteous, loving and merciful and ready to forgive. A psalmist was to set the nation to singing about him as a God pitying us "as a father pitieth his children" (Psalms 103: 13). Jonah was to give us a book about him as a God pitying and longing to save even the pagan Ninevites, and Isaiah pictured him as the "Suffering Servant," suffering to redeem. Hosea in a living parable pictured God as a husband yearning over a harlot wife and welcoming her back home. Jesus came declaring that "the half had never yet been told" about the love and pity of God for sinners; God is like a father suffering over a bad boy, and welcoming back home the prodigal that had broken his heart, and staging a great feast in his honor. There was joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repented. "Look at me," he said, "how I love the publicans and sinners, and know God is just like me!"
Evolving Ideas of Justice and Right
The moral code of an evolving people will always conform rather closely to its changing concepts of God and what he requires. Two basic tests of the ethics of a people are its attitude to woman and its respect for the rights of an individual as a person.
Early Old Testament ethics treats woman as an inferior, as almost the vassal of man. Adam blamed his sin on the woman, and God is represented as saying her husband shall "rule over her" as a penalty (Genesis 3: 16). Abraham was given the recognized right to use his handmaid as a concubine, and then to send her out into the wilderness with her child and his (Genesis 16: 4 and 16: 6). Lot had the unchallenged right to offer his daughters to the lusts of a mob to spare his guests (Genesis 19: 8). The Mosaic law permitted a husband to divorce his wife arbitrarily for almost any reason, he the sole judge in the matter.
The high moral demands of the prophets improved woman's status; Jesus went all the way, lifting her at once to an equal status with man, rebuking men's "hardness of heart" in divorcing her, and declaring the two are "one flesh" and so equal (Matthew 19: 6, 7). The disciples "marveled" that Jesus would flout the Pharisaic regulation that a rabbi must not talk to a woman in a public place (John 4: 27); but to Jesus a woman was a person of equal dignity and worth with a man, and entitled to infinite respect. Paul was but interpreting Jesus' attitude when he declared that in Christ there is "no male and female, . . . all are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3: 28).
Improving Status of the Slave
If slavery continues to be recognized throughout the Bible, we find an improving status of the slave as the concept of God trends upward. In very early times slavery was accepted as a concession to mercy. In Israel's wars of conquest God was thought at times to will the extermination of captives-in one case even of "infants and sucklings" and dumb beasts (I Samuel 15: 3). To spare captives and make them slaves was considered merciful. The later Mosaic law still gave a master the power of life and death over his slave. The master might beat him so he would die yet go scot-free "if he continue a day or two . . . for he is his money" (Exodus 21: 20-21). This does not neglect the fact that the law did much to protect the slave and promote kind treatment. Men were charged to remember that Israel was once a slave in Egypt, and to be kind to slaves.
Jesus at once went beyond the noblest prophets in demanding humaneness and mercy toward all men. For the humblest was a child of God, infinitely dear to the Father, and of infinite value. Such is the tone of all the New Testament. Slaves were to be treated kindly as brothers, and as such the church welcomed them as equals. The greatest social and moral revolution of all time had begun, never to end according to the mind of God until every man is free and a person of worth and dignity in the sight of a Father who is no respecter of persons.
Improving Concept of God as Near and Fatherly
Strange as it may seem, far into the Old Testament men are but rarely represented as knowing much of a personal approach to God in prayer. Save for a few devout souls, private or personal prayer is seldom mentioned. The individual was lost in the group-and the priest interceded for the group, and mainly not through prayer but through sacrifice. For God was terrible, and the people feared to come near him, as when they pleaded with Moses at Sinai, "Let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exodus 20:19).
Besides, they thought of God as present and reachable at only certain places. Jacob, fleeing from Canaan, awakes from his dream surprised to find God present so far from home (Genesis 28: 16). Only after the temple was destroyed and sacrifices ceased, and the prophets began to demand inward holiness of the individual, did private prayer become general. To be sure, before then prophets like Amos and Isaiah had begun scathing condemnation of feasts and sacrifices, if they were substitutes for inwardness of life, or for justice and mercy, or for one's own prayer of penitence. They cried, instead of "temple-treading" and sacrifices, "wash you and make you clean" (Amos 5: 21, 22; Isaiah 1: 11-17).
In recorded prayers we see a marked evolution parallel with the changing concept of God from vengeful to loving. Dying Samson prays to kill his enemies with him, and many of the psalms startle us with their bitter hate of enemies and their prayers for vengeance (69: 22-28; 137: 7-9; 140: 9, 10; 144: 6). But by the time of the Psalter many psalms set the nation to singing the soul's deep sense of sin and the longing for cleansing and holiness, the most eminent instance being Psalm 51.
Immediately on entering the New Testament, we find Jesus at once lifting prayer to the highest level of spiritual experience and universal outreach. No longer is it an attempt, like Abraham's pleading, to bend God's will to the human, but rather an avenue of surrendering the human will to the divine. This is seen at its best in Jesus' own prayer in Gethsemane, "Thy will be done, not mine." No longer is prayer primarily for self and one's own people, but quite as often for God's universal rule: "Thy Kingdom come . . . ," as in the Lord's Prayer. Never again prayer for vengeance on enemies, but prayer in the spirit of Jesus and of Stephen: "Father, forgive them," and "Lay not this sin to their charge" (Luke 23: 34; Acts 7: 60). No more is there a thought of appeasing an offended deity, but we see instead Jesus communing face to face with a loving Father, he teaching that such prayer is a universal privilege; "Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret" (Matthew 6: 6).
Evolving Concept of Sin and Suffering
The Bible begins and long continues with the idea that suffering is always a penalty for sin. Man sinned in Eden, and the penalty was suffering and death, with a curse put on Nature. The problem was aggravated for the early Hebrews by their ideas that Jehovah was terrible and vengeful, easily displeased and angered. Storm or flood, rain or drouth, famine, pestilence or war, came or went according as Israel pleased or displeased Jehovah. Good deeds and sacrifices might avert suffering by winning God's favor. The belief long went unchallenged that sickness, suffering, or calamity, was a sure sign that one had sinned. Prosperity was proof that one was righteous.
Distrust of this doctrine grew strong in the later Old Testament time. Many of the psalms lament that the righteous are afflicted and the wicked prosperous. Ecclesiastes waxes cynical and bitter before the baffling problem; there is no justice: "All things come alike to all . . . to the righteous and to the wicked" (Ecclesiastes 9: 2). Groping toward the light through the long Old Testament period, the noblest minds, it may be said with fair accuracy, reached the following consensus:
The New Testament views the relation of sin and suffering far differently from the Old. Suffering and misfortune are never viewed as punishment sent by a vengeful God. Some suffering is retributive, as one must reap what he sows, but in the New Testament the writers never look back to sin as a reason for God's sending suffering as punishment. God is ever a tender Father dealing impartially with all, "making his sun to rise on the evil and the good" (Matthew 5: 45). Jesus expressly rejected the age-old ideas that a man could be born blind as a punishment for sin. By pouring out his life in healing all manner of sickness, he revealed a God who hated sickness and suffering, and co-operated with man to fight disease. And so Jesus definitely set himself against the accepted theory that God sent diseases and epidemics as punishment for sin-indeed a revolutionary attitude. By this attitude and by his sacrificial ministry of healing, he has inspired beyond all others the world-wide ministry of healing and preventive medicine. He thus indeed started a major revolution in the thinking of the race: that God, instead of being a vengeful deity, sending epidemics as a "scourge of God" to punish sin, is rather a loving Father revealing to scientist and physician the means of heading them off! Of the truth of this position the amazing conquest of numerous contagious diseases is convincing
And Jesus even redeemed suffering by putting a beauty and glory about it when borne for his sake. He sent his disciples into the evil world to redeem and change it, bidding them to "rejoice and be exceeding glad" when suffering unjustly for him and his cause. And here is one of the marvels of the Bible, that, whereas suffering for ages had been accepted as punishment for sin, and endured with sorrow and tears, Jesus astoundingly turned it into a blessed privilege to be borne cheerfully and joyfully for the sake of him and his kingdom! And this becomes the dominant tone of the New Testament. The cross of Christ is a thing to glory in. Paul even longed to "know the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3: 10), that so he might be a partner with Christ in redeeming the world from sin and suffering. Indeed the mission of the Christian is to choose a life of suffering and sacrifice, counting it a joy to "bear the cross" with a view to destroying sin and suffering and bringing in Christ's kingdom. It is the peculiar glory of the New Testament that it reaches the note of joy in suffering. Suffering and tragedy surround the disciples throughout the early record, but the New Testament is "far and away the most exultant and jubilant book in the literature of religion." (See Fosdick, A Guide to Understanding the Bible, p. 193, with regard to this point and to much else in this chapter.)
Dawning of the Idea of Immortality
In the early Old Testament period there was no certain concept of man's immortality. Job grappled with the question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" Dimly he believed he would. Through a long Bible period the individual was so lost in the clan and the tribe that not even his moral acts were distinctly his own apart from his group. His sin and its penalty attached to all the group, so that for Achan's sin he and all his clan were stoned and burned (Joshua 7:22-26). Individual immortality was a doubtful concept. Such a future life as was believed in was but a shadowy existence. In Sheol the individual was viewed as valueless in God's sight, cut off from God's notice and interest (Psalms 88: 5; Isaiah 38: 18: Psalms 115: 17), more a shadow than a person, abandoned, joyless, hopeless.
By late Old Testament times the prophets had so separated the individual from the group that each person was counted as morally responsible, and so valuable in God's sight that God was viewed as present even in Sheol to reward the righteous and to punish the wicked (Psalms 139:8; Amos 9: 2). God was just and so must vindicate his justice and righteousness even if it required calling the dead back from Sheol to a judgment of rewards and penalties.
In the apocryphal books and the rabbinical literature Sheol or Hades came to be a place of moral awards, while in the apocalyptic books of the period it came to be regarded as an intermediate state, with definite rewards and penalties. Between the Testaments the rabbis began to divide Hades into two compartments, one for the righteous, the other for the wicked (Hastings Bible Dictionary, article "Hades"; see also Luke 16: 26). In this apocryphal period the ideas of a resurrection and an immortality came to be the definite dream and hope of many.
Jesus at once lifted immortality to a blessed hope by declaring that every man is of infinite value in God's sight, and immortal. The Christians died triumphantly, sure that death was but the gateway to a richer, fuller life. Paul discounted the doctrine of a literal physical resurrection-the raised body, he said, was "spiritual"-but all the New Testament treats immortality as a radiant certainty: "This mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15: 53).
To sum up the Old Testament revelation, all the above ideas in the early Old Testament time were "understood as a child," seen "through a glass darkly," the light upon them growing ever brighter until in the blaze of Christ's person and teaching they at last stood out in bold relief. Christ almost ignored the law and ritual of sacrifices, the regulation about "clean" and "unclean," expressly set aside certain of the Mosaic statutes as outgrown, and put his own higher laws in their place. Most of all, he revealed God as loving, suffering, forgiving, and so by his nature as incapable of doing or approving any unethical or cruel act or command attributed to him in the Old Testament. "They of old time" misunderstood and often misjudged him; Jesus in his own perfect life and teaching revealed him as he was, and as he always had been, and so as the absolute standard by which all the Old Testament is to be judged.
THE CRUCIAL ISSUE; WHAT IS GOD LIKE?
To me one of the best of recent books on Bible interpretation is Edwin Lewis's The Biblical Faith and Christian Freedom (Westminister Press, 1953). He concludes Chapter IV with the solemn avowal: that God as seen in Jesus Christ shows us "God as he is in himself and as he always has been and always will be" (italics mine); and that therefore every concept of God in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament even, must be accepted or rejected according as it agrees or disagrees with the concept of God impersonated in Jesus Christ and expressed in his teaching. And then Lewis solemnly avows, "Here we take our stand. We can do no other. May God help us!" (pp. 61, 62).
Solemnly the present writer takes his stand on the same proposition. It is to say that Christ is the perfect scale in which to weigh every ethical concept of God in the Old Testament, and every act or command attributed to him; that everything said about God must be accepted or rejected according to what Jesus revealed about the nature and will of God, alike in his own person and in his teaching. It is to say that God never, in even any remote past, could have done or said or commanded anything incompatible with his nature as Jesus revealed him, nor ever can in any remote future.
Unequivocally therefore we affirm that Christ is the key to interpreting every reference to God in the Old Testament, and the perfect scale in which to weigh every ethical concept. Any ethical concept in the Bible or elsewhere that is compatible with the character of Jesus, and with his teaching about the nature of God, may be accepted. Every ethical concept seen to clash with the character of Christ and the nature of God as Christ revealed him, must be unhesitatingly rejected. This is the key to interpreting the Bible in all its ethical aspects.
The Key Proposed by Jesus
Precisely this is the key proposed by Jesus himself for interpreting the Old Testament. Over and over in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew fifth chapter, Jesus said, "It was said to them of old time . . . , but I say unto you . . . ," and he proceeded to set aside one or another Old Testament statute and to supersede it with a higher statute of his own (Matthew 5: 21, 27, 33, 38, 43). This Jesus called "fulfilling" the Laws of Moses, by which he meant filling it full of the deeper meaning that God from the first and always had wanted to put into it, but could not because men could not comprehend nor accept as binding a law so far ahead of their time. Nor could a higher law have been obeyed so far ahead of its time; it would have been a dead letter.
This position solemnly avowed by Lewis and the present writer ought long ago to have been accepted as axiomatic in the teaching of the Church, although frankly and obviously it is a hazardous position. Aptly one may retort, "Who are you, that you dare to judge and reject anything in God's book!" Jesus did it, and laid down the principle that compels us to do the same, even in loyalty to him. It is this: "Accept whatever agrees with what I say of the nature and will of God; reject whatever moral or spiritual concept is not in accord with what I say of the nature and will of God."
Jesus himself followed this principle, and in doing so was our example. He passed judgment on the law of Moses in concrete instances: "It was said to them of old time, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for as tooth'; It was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy', but I say return good for evil, and love your enemies-no matter what those of old time said to the contrary."
Here Jesus is giving us the basic and ultimate principle of Bible interpretation in all its moral aspects. It is that God never can and never could do nor command nor approve anything incompatible with his nature as holy love, "They of old time" simply did not know what God was like. It took the patient God long centuries to get over to men what he was like. "They of old time" thought God could be vengeful and cruel, at least to Israel's enemies. They were wrong. God never could have given nor sanctioned a law that made it a virtue to hate or harm an enemy. He never could have given nor approved a law of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." He never could have given Israel a command to "utterly destroy" Amalek (I Samuel 15: 3). In thinking God was like that, "they of old time" simply misunderstood God and misjudged him. From "of old time" and always he was and is a God who loves enemies and pays back good for evil.
This truth about God should be frankly accepted as the pole-star for all Bible interpretation, and for Christianity itself as a fundamental postulate. If God in any remote past could have been unethical, vengeful, or cruel, he might be so again! And such a God we could not absolutely trust or worship.
To repeat the thought of Chapter II, such concepts of God were simply the concepts carried over from the childhood of the race, and were held by a primitive people, and bequeathed to the early Hebrews. To eradicate such concepts of God was a long, slow, painful process, even to the patient God. Even to this day, thousands still hold tenaciously to the old, outmoded concept of a vengeful, implacable God.
The Evolving Concept of God
Through many centuries, "in many and various ways" (Heb. 1: 1, RSV), largely by "mighty acts," but still more effectively through epoch-making experiences of God-confronted individuals, little by little God succeeded in getting over to Israel partially what God was like. As seen in Chapter II, he was dealing with a primitive people desperately slow and hard to learn. In each period the chroniclers of Israel's history wrote the nation's record in terms of what the people of their time believed about God. For each writer was one of them and shared their common beliefs, though sometimes ahead of the commonly-held concept.
In the earliest period Israel believed God was vengeful and cruel to enemies and to the wicked, and so the writer as one of his time pictured God as ordering the slaughter of the Amalekites, even to women and children and dumb beasts (I Sam. 15: 3). The writer of Judges glorified Jael, and celebrated in a poem now famous as a literary gem, her treachery in enticing Captain Sisera into her tent and murdering her trusting guest while he was asleep (Judges 4, 5). The writer glorified Samson for his hate and slaughter of the Philistines. Evidently the writers regarded such acts as pleasing to God, who was thought to hate Israel's enemies. The Psalter, the hymn-book of later Israel, contains many hymns of hate and vengeance, doubtless used in public worship. In one hymn particularly revolting to our moral sense today, the nation likely sang, in hate of Babylon, "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against a rock" (Psalm 137: 9). In keeping with the common ideas that God was a God of wrath and vengeance, they supposed such songs of hate would be pleasing to Jehovah.
The idea of the Bible as a progressive revelation set forth in Chapter II completely resolves the moral tension between the low ethical content of many passages in the Old Testament with the perfect ethical concepts found in the example and teaching of Jesus in the New Testament. The ethical concept proceeded upward from the very low level of a primitive people in the early Old Testament toward an ever higher level under the teaching and examples of prophets and poets, and on up finally to the divine level seen in the person and teaching of Christ.
The evolution of the ethical concept upward is easily observable. Even as late as Ahab's time, the zealous and fiery Elijah, in common with the people of his time, believed it would please God to butcher the 450 priests of Baal (I Kings 18:40), and pleasing to God also to call down fire from heaven and burn up the two enemy captains with their fifties (II Kings 1: 10-12). And that view of Jehovah was hard to eradicate. It still persisted in even some of Jesus' disciples when James and John, angered by the inhospitality of the Samaritans, asked Jesus, "Shall we bid fire to come down from heaven to consume them, even as Elijah did?" Jesus sharply rebuked this vengeful spirit, saying sadly, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of" (Luke 9: 54-56). The chronicler of Elijah's period, consistent with the belief of the time, wrote down faithfully the record of Elijah's savage acts, evidently regarding them as righteous.
Even as late as Jonah's time it was still popularly believed that God loved Israel and hated Israel's enemies, and that it would be a righteous act for God to blot out the great city of Nineveh. Consistent with that belief, Nahum wrote his book as a philippic of hate and vengeance, appealing to God to destroy it. That lust for vengeance on enemies moved the soul of one of God's noblemen, who had been vouchsafed a vivid confrontation with God, to write the book of Jonah to combat that heathen concept of God. Accordingly, he pictures God as moved with compassion to spare Nineveh, touched especially with pity for the 120,000 children and the innocent, helpless cattle (Jonah 4: 11).
Rising higher still in his concept of the holy and merciful God, Isaiah and his contemporary Hosea grasped the idea that God was not vengeful at all, but even suffered over the wicked and yearned to redeem them. Isaiah enlarged his concept to that of a God seeking to redeem all peoples.
Rising through and above all such incidents in the Old Testament that depict a vengeful, cruel God, we can hear Jesus, come to show what God was like, saying in tender but regal words, "They of old time thought and said God could be vengeful and cruel, but I say: God was never like that! He was always holy love and mercy, like me and the Father I worship, full of compassion for all men, and suffering to redeem."
This fact should bring home to the man of faith a solemn conviction that he is under obligation to follow the example of Jesus in declaring unequivocally that "they of old time" were wrong in their concepts of God, and that God never was other than the compassionate, merciful, forgiving God seen in Jesus and declared in his teaching. Loyalty and love to him should demand that we accept what he declares about God, rather than what the ancient chronicler said of him.
A Personal Testimony
World War II was closing. An admirable Christian man, sincere and honest as the day is long, said to me, "I think we ought to have dropped 100 atomic bombs on Japan." "Would not that have been needless cruelty?" I asked. He said, "Didn't God order Israel utterly to destroy the wicked people of their time?" I said, "Do you find anything like that in the example or the teaching of Jesus?" He said in evident sincerity, "I would as soon take the authority of the Old Testament as of the New." It was stunning, coming as it did from an excellent Christian man with a good Christian heritage, a man having average church training. It can hardly be doubted that thousands of good people are as confused as this man. They vaguely think, since all the Bible is inspired, that all of it must be accepted "as is."
The gist of these three chapters was published several years ago in a religious journal. It brought a letter most significant from an aged minister in the state of New York, evidently quite intelligent. This letter said, "I'm writing to inquire if this article is to be reprinted in pamphlet form. I think it ought to be, and circulated freely by the thousand among ministers of all denominations."
He went on, "I am a Baptist minister 85 years old. For many years I've preached a ferocious God. Your discussion has convinced me fully that I've been wrong in thinking God could ever have been vengeful and cruel."
His son, professor in a Southern university, wrote me his gratification at what the discussion had done for his father. He said, "He has always fought every modern approach to the Bible."
The Issue Momentous
It has always been important in the interest of truth to set forth the view of God declared by Jesus. It is doubtful if it were ever before so important as now. For arrayed against all of Christianity is a powerful foe, Communism, propagating with fanatical zeal a religion fully committed to destroying Christianity and its God and its Bible as harmful to mankind.
Bob Ingersoll, the orator and sceptic, once swayed and confused great audiences by hurling at them the Bible record of a God who sent bears to tear up 42 boys for making sport of Elisha's bald head (II Kings 2: 24); who sent a pestilence and killed 70,000 people because David had taken a census of the people (II Samuel 24: 15); who sent down fire to burn up in succession two enemy captains and their fifties because they came under orders to capture Elijah (II Kings 1: 10-12); who struck Uzzah dead for a well-meant act of reaching out his hand to steady the shaking ark of God (II Samuel 6:7); who told Moses to stone a man for "gathering sticks" on the sabbath (Numbers 15: 32-36); who ordered Achan and all his clan to be stoned and burned for a theft of booty taken in battle (Joshua 7: 22-25); who opened the earth to swallow up Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their families for mutiny against Moses (Numbers 16: 31-35); who ordered Saul to kill the Amalekites even to infants and sucklings (I Samuel 15: 2-3); who at one fell stroke killed the firstborn of man and beast in all the families of Egypt in one night (Exodus 12:29). Holding up such incidents from the Bible story, Ingersoll asked contemptuously, "How do you like a God like that!"
Joseph Fort Newton in River of Years gave the fitting answer to all such questions. He tells of being invited to address in Philadelphia a meeting of the "American Association for the Advancement of Atheism" at a time when it had chapters in full swing in many of our cities. After his being introduced, he pressed the members in turn to tell just what kind of God they denied. They described the Jehovah held up in the early Old Testament stories as doing and ordering unethical and brutal acts. And then he said, "If that is the kind of God you deny, I want to file an application for membership in your chapter. Such a God is no more like the God in whom I trust than a kangaroo is like an archangel!" (River of Years, pp. 240-241).
I am fully persuaded that the exigency of the present time ought to bring the church of Christ to declare strongly that the ancient God of unethical, cruel acts seen in the early Bible stories is neither the God we worship, nor indeed the God of our Bible. "They of old time" saw him dimly; Christ reveals him clearly. We ought to hasten to say so firmly-and with alacrity! World issues depend on it. It is bad enough to give an Ingersoll a fatal club to use against the Bible and Christianity. The literalist has no defense against that club; the Bible in its older stories actually makes God to have been at times unequivocally vengeful, cruel, brutal! The literalist cannot deny it. In the old phrase, "It is the plain word of God." The principle of "progressive revelation" offers a saving alternative. The Church of Christ should hasten to accept it-and to declare it eagerly: "They of old time had that view of God. Jesus taught us better; he even showed us God in his own example; a Father with heart breaking over every prodigal son, yea, over a prodigal planet threatening to blow itself up!"
For the church to say this unequivocally and strongly is to go far toward disarming Communism in its contemptuous battle to discredit our Bible, our God, our religion. The clash of two world religions makes it appear puerile to argue about the exact words of a Book when the majestic "Fact of Christ" is its essence and its moving power. And Christ forever talked of a Father, and prayed to a Father, just-yes, but infinitely loving and forgiving, and with a sorrow forever in his heart over a world rent asunder with hate and threatening to destroy itself.
And what kind of God he is is the world's crucial issue today! Joseph Fort Newton, again, tells in the book referred to above of his early groping as a minister through the darkness about God, Newton confused by the preaching he heard about a God of wrath and vengeance. His wise mother helped him to light and security. He said to her, "Mother, if Jesus was right about God, such preaching is wrong; it gets God and the devil mixed. If we are wrong about God we cannot be right about anything else, or about very little-at least."
She answered, "My son, listen only to Jesus. Accept what he says about God, what he shows God to be in his life, nothing else, nothing less; test everything by him-forget the rest." The tension for him relaxed; his foundation became secure (River of Years, p. 48).
What a world of confusion and trouble would be avoided if the Church everywhere today would proclaim fearlessly the basic truth that this Christian mother gave to her preacher son!
CHRIST THE ETERNAL YARDSTICK
We proceed at once to examine the Old Testament in the light of the great principle avowed in Chapter III; namely, that all Scripture must be measured and judged by what Christ revealed about the nature of God. What he was himself and what he taught about God provide us with an absolute yardstick by which to measure: (1) What is the moral level and authority of all Scripture; (2) What is the personal worth and true greatness of every individual; (3) How sound and secure is any given nation or civilization. Regarding Christ as the Eternal Norm, this chapter aims to take Christ back and apply him as a touchstone to all beliefs about God, to all Scripture, to all characteristics and life in the Old Testament period. Whatever is found as ethically compatible with the character of Christ and the God he revealed may be accepted. Whatever disagrees must be frankly rejected.
An unforgettable experience illustrates the principle. A superior young woman of sterling character said to her pastor, "All our young people are angry and in revolt against you. A certain deacon says that in a deacon's meeting you made a certain remark reflecting on the character of one of our finest girls." She added, "I told them strongly there was obviously some misunderstanding, that you couldn't have said such a thing, that everybody knows you have character, that such a remark would have contradicted all we know of your character."
It was a grave situation and had to be faced. The deacons were called together, and each in turn was asked, "Did the pastor say what is reported-did he say anything even resembling it?" The answer was a unanimous and ringing No.
Pathetically the deacon said, "I misunderstood you; I offer you my resignation." They answered, "We'll treat you as God would; we don't want to punish you; we want you only to be a true man; we offer you another chance."
This young woman had urged, against the slander, the proved and established character and reputation of the pastor; the pastor's character had been tested and proved. His character made him incapable of the slanderous remark. He couldn't act contrary to what he was through and through!
Yet a man might in an unguarded moment fail-fail to be like himself; but the holy, unchanging God, never! Never in any past, present or future. Nor can Christ, who is like God. And because Christ is human as well as divine, and we can see him close-up, we know what he is like: one fitted by what he is to be the absolute and eternal Norm for all character and conduct, now and forever. We dare to hold him up as the absolute and eternal yardstick by which to measure every ethical concept in the Bible, every passage of Scripture, every Bible character, great or small, even the greatest saint or seer or prophet, and unhesitatingly to take his measure by this eternal yardstick.
Loyalty to Christ Rather than to the Writer
And precisely because we take Jesus to be our Lord and Master, we are even compelled out of love and loyalty to him to carry him back through all the Old Testament and take the measure of every Mosaic statute, of every ethical concept, of the character and conduct of even the greatest patriarch or prophet or seer or saint, and fearlessly, unequivocally to pass judgement in his Name. Whatever or whoever "measures up" to Christ as the Eternal Norm we will approve. Whatever falls short of the Norm we are bound in loyalty to One greater than the Law and the Prophets, to challenge, to discount, to reject as judged by the Norm. Solemnly we will say, "I can do no other. God help me!" In so doing, Jesus is our example: "They of old time said . . . , but I say!" It is a daring attitude for him; for us it is obviously both daring and hazardous; for it means our daring to evaluate this or that Scripture. But one will feel constrained, and rightly, to evaluate Scripture; to choose, to accept, to reject. Loyalty to Christ as Lord leaves no option. He is greater than all Scripture! Greater than all the patriarchs, prophets and poets!
The Writer Human
The writer, on the other hand, was human. However honest and faithful to his trust, or however capable, he was yet human, and liable to err. For God left him a free man to follow the light as he saw it. No reputable theory of divine inspiration regards the Bible writer as less than a free man to utter his own thought in his own words, although he wrote with a sense of his being moved by the Holy Spirit.
But equally Christ leaves every man free to interpret. Still, as a free man he is bound to interpret in accordance with what he conceives to be ultimate reality. The Christian man is free, and yet under constraint to what is deepest in him.
Edwin Lewis in the book already named (Chapter III) concludes Chapter X with an impressive paragraph. He says: "For any man ultimate authority is in what he takes to be ultimate reality, . . . the authority by which he elects to live and die, the authority to which he assigns absolute control of his existence here and his destiny hereafter; . . . this is the authority which for him is ultimate. For the sake of this he will surrender all else. According to this he will decide all else . . . . This authority (for him) is in what he takes that God to be who at unimaginable cost to himself broke into human history in the person of Jesus Christ, to show men what in himself he actually is . . . . This is the rock upon which he builds his house of life. It is the rock to which he clings when all else in swept away . . . . All else can be dispensed with, but not this" (p. 154).
Standing on that rock of what he deeply believes is ultimate reality, and with Christ before his adoring gaze, the Christian dares, and must dare, to say of this or that passage in either the Old or the New Testament, "This does not square with the Norm. This honest writer was human; he was capable of erring, but Jesus Christ and the God he revealed stand firm and forever; I adore and follow him rather than the writer, be he patriarch or lawgiver, saint or seer, prophet or poet."
The Yardstick Applied
Judged by Christ as the Norm, some passages in the Old Testament (as we saw in Chapter III) cannot be accepted as expressing the mind and character of God. I know a little girl who went home from her Sunday school class and said impulsively to her mother, "I don't believe God sent bears to tear up 42 little boys!" Fortunately she had a mother who said strongly, "I don't either!" If only all parents and teachers would say it as strongly as she, wherever a passage reflects an ancient belief in a God of unethical or cruel acts, instead of the God and Father of Jesus Christ!
One great teacher of adult women habitually closed every lesson on the Old Testament during six months with the challenge, "Now how about this lesson in the light of what Jesus taught, and what he was?" At first it was disturbing. But this teacher had the rare satisfaction, after some months of measuring every Old Testament lesson or Old Testament character by Christ as a moral yardstick, of seeing the class delighting to measure and judge the Old Testament concept by the concept of God in Christ
We have already seen (Chapters II, III) that many Old Testament passages represent God as acting simply like the unethical and cruel God conceived usually by a primitive people. There are two ways to interpret such passages. One is to interpret them in terms of what an ancient people believed about God, ignoring the fact that Christ was to come and to make such concepts obsolete. The other way is to treat such passages for what they are, as early twilight ideas that would burst into the luster of noon when Christ should come as their "fulfillment." The early concept and the later are each a stage in the divine revelation, one as divine as the other, just as a child is as divine as the man into which he is in process of growing. But it is obvious folly to treat the early concept as complete in itself, when in fact it will by and by merge into a concept fuller and richer. It is tragic when the ancient concept is treated as sacrosanct, the interpreter ignoring the light to be shed on it by Christ.
Types of Bible Passages
Types of Bible passages that have to be judged in the light of the fuller revelation in Christ are:
Science Sheds Light on the Nature of God
Louis Pasteur on an epoch-making day of June 2, 1881, in a field near Paris, met an august body of men: nobles, senators, scientists, farmers, newspapermen. Sheep and cattle were dying by the thousand from a fatal disease. The multitude was skeptical of Pasteur's theory of germs as the cause. They challenged him to prove that a certain germ in the system kills the animals. Eagerly he accepted the challenge. At intervals of two weeks he had vaccinated 30 sheep with mild doses of the fatal germs of the anthrax disease. Two days ago he had given these and 24 other sheep a fatal injection of the germs of the disease. He predicted what would happen: all the unvaccinated sheep would be dead in two days. As the crowd looked on in excitement, they saw the last one of the 24 fall dead. The other 30 were quietly grazing, not diseased. A shout went up in honor of Pasteur. A famous journalist dashed to a telegraph office to wire the world that a new day had dawned for all animals and humans. God had revealed a way to save alive millions of animals and men. Better still, Pasteur had exploded forever the idea, believed by the Hebrews and expressed in their Scriptures, that God sent sickness and epidemics on people as punishment for sins. He wasn't a God like that! He had shown Pasteur and the world that it was his will to help men conquer sickness and disease!
It is tragic if the Bible interpreter weakly allows people to go on believing like an unenlightened, ancient people, and their writers as well, that sickness and epidemics come as punishment sent by an angry God. Silence in the matter may rightly be viewed as unethical. It is leaving the people to believe falsely about God, and to perpetuate a false belief both about disease and about God.
Certain New Testament Passages
The man of genuine Christian faith and experience may dare to test all New Testament passages also by what he surely knows about Christ and the Father he revealed. He may dare to set the Christ he loves and adores over against any writer's statement that seems obviously incompatible with the totality of what he deeply knows of the character and teaching of Jesus. Always the acid test is this: does it ring absolutely true to Christ himself? If not, one may, and even must, say in utter love and loyalty to Christ, "That is not like him! I know Christ, and no writer about Christ can convince me that Christ could do or say anything so unlike him! (Recall the woman and her pastor, p. 22). There is bound to be some mistake! This writer must be in error. For Christ could not be unlike himself!"
Some of the most devout Christians have dared to take this attitude. And Christ leaves us the liberty-indeed he makes us free-to take this attitude. If it be hazardous, it is a part of the liberty with which he has made us free. For what is the Gospel? It is the eternal Word of God going infinitely deeper than the gospel writings, and producing a profound experience of the saving Christ in the souls of believers. That profound experience runs through all the New Testament. First came that experience in the souls of the writers, and then out of that experience came welling up the Gospels and the epistles. The experience gave us the writings. And that experience remains a living, life-giving stream, regardless of who wrote John or Ephesians, or when or how. Matthew and Luke may disagree about this or that event or saying of Jesus, but underneath what they say or how they say it remains that living, throbbing, transforming faith in One who lived and died and lived again. It is a shallow view that puts great emphasis on the words in which writers tried to tell of things obviously too deep for words!
Evidently the New Testament writers were honest and capable men, passionately devoted to telling the truth about the wonderful Person they had come to know and love. As Luke says of himself (Luke 1: 3), they carefully assembled all available data about Christ. Those data included first-hand reports of those who saw and heard Jesus, and also much that came by hearsay. They sifted it with care, and then wrote down what to the best of their knowledge was the truth about Christ.
But each writer was still a free man-free even to make mistakes; for never has it been God's way to leave a man unfree to make mistakes. And it is evident from a comparison of the several Gospels that the writers did not always agree in their reports of the same event or saying of Jesus.
For example, many of the most devout Christians have stumbled at the story that Jesus "cursed" the barren fig tree, with result that it "withered away." Some have said strongly, "That is not like Jesus; he couldn't have done that!" (Matthew 21: 18-22).
Some equally devout have felt it impossible to believe Jesus could have uttered the very hard saying attributed to him by Luke (14: 26f.), "If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, . . . he cannot be my disciple." They point out that Matthew is much milder in the parallel statement, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew: 10: 37). They can say with a sense of relief, "That sounds like Christ; it is easy to believe that; we have to believe Luke gave the saying a color of his own." For my part, I find it possible to believe Jesus on another occasion uttered the stronger saying, using the well-known form of Eastern hyperbole for emphasis
As great and devout a scholar as James Denny comments on the early morning breakfast of Jesus and his disciples after his resurrection, when it is said of Jesus-risen and disembodied-that he ate a piece of broiled fish (Luke 24: 42, 43). Dr. Denny says, "I confess I cannot go the piece of broiled fish" I find it possible to believe this, for Jesus' one concern was to convince his disciples that in his risen form he was the very person they had known; and he did other mysterious things with that mysterious risen body!
What are we to say for those devout Christians who find it impossible to believe such statements? That they are reprobate? If it is a hazardous attitude to Scripture, it none the less inheres in the nature of Christian freedom; also, it is compatible with a genuine and robust Christian faith and life, compatible also with Jesus' own attitude to Scripture. He was not bound by the letter of Scripture. Indeed much of the Old Testament he passed over as outgrown. All the law and ritual of sacrifice he regarded as superseded by his own sacrifice, and so rightly to be regarded as outgrown. Certain statutes of the Mosaic law he expressly set aside, and taught others to do the same: "It was said, . . . but I say."
We dare to take him back through the Old Testament to judge it and make it square with the nature of the eternal, unchangeable God and Father whom he revealed. He left untouched the inner essence of the Scripture, which is the eternal Word of God, sensed by the devout soul beneath the words of the Bible. That inner divine essence flows from Genesis through all the Old Testament like an ever-widening, ever-deepening stream, until it merges into the ocean of revelation felt in Christ's teaching and in the fathomless depths of his own person. Amazingly at that stream God's people have drunk in all ages, and found their thirst quenched, and known beyond doubt that they confronted God through the pages of a Book. This has actually been so despite its immature ethical concepts and its confused ideas of God and right.
Reaching the New Testament, the devout reader has felt the climate changed amazingly. The atmosphere became electric with the mysterious power of a Person crucified, but risen and alive with a power that transformed heart-broken disciples into men of unconquerable faith and courage. And this before a word of the New Testament was written! Those who wrote had each his own separate way of telling his story of the strange Man, seldom able to quote the exact words he had spoken, often disagreeing with one another, even in reporting the "Lord's Prayer" and the famous Sermon on the Mount. Each had his separate point of view and objective, they often diverging from one another in reporting a saying or incident. This is but natural and inevitable, and should not seem to raise any difficulty.
But throughout the Gospels and Epistles and all the rest of the New Testament is felt the same wonder, the same indomitable faith and certainty of Christ crucified, risen and reigning. And all this in spite of the variant points of view and differences in how they told of the central, amazing fact of the Christ crucified, risen, and reigning on high. Of that central fact and its power to transform their lives there was never any doubt nor disagreement.
This fact and this alone should concern him who would interpret Christ in the New Testament, and explain his right to be recognized as the eternal yardstick to measure and judge every passage of Scripture and every character in the Old Testament and the New, and to be the touchstone of all character and conduct now and forever.
A Personal Incident
At this point came a letter from Mrs. Peter Marshall, author of the already-famous best-seller, A Man Called Peter. She said she was writing 1800 "choice Friends"-"friends"who had written her their hearty appreciation of her book. She said she was about to be off for Hollywood to help 20th Century Fox to make a movie of her book. She appealed to her friends to send up "a gigantic wave of prayer" that the heart of the book might through the movie "speak to the heart of America at this critical time."
I wrote asking her to get over to the producers my appeal and that of thousands of others, as I felt sure, to make central in the movie what is clearly the heart of the book, how bleeding, broken hearts-like her own-may find healing, which in turn they may give out to others. I told her I was so concerned that I had appealed to the public through a dozen leading newspapers to make the same appeal.
My appeal was in part to show the heroine of the story as a human person, living down where millions of plain people live and weep and struggle. I offered the producers through her two simple tokens that Mrs. Marshall is such a person: I had told her of a friend with a heart broken almost identically as her own had been, and she had written my friend a letter about how her own heart had found healing. And once in Washington I had rung Mrs. Marshall's phone to ask her a crucial question about her own healing. I began, "Do you have five minutes free to give me?" and she had answered, so human and friendly, "Let me cut off my stove!" That's the kind of person, I was saying to the producers, that could "move the heart of America-and the world."
This is a parallel portraying the Christ of the Bible: for long centuries promised and longed-for as Savior and Healer-of-Hearts, at last he came "in lowly guise," living as one of the plain people, loving publicans and sinners-and they crucified him for it! Hearts that loved him broke, and all hope fled from them. But presently they had indisputable evidence that he was alive, and that this strange lowly man was none other than God come to earth, and actually now present in all the power of deity to forgive sins and to heal broken hearts.
The sorrowing disciples were completely transformed by the wonder of it all. And this became and continued the dominant tone in the life of the growing multitude of Christ's disciples. It gave them a strange power to live, and to die smiling and praying for their enemies-and to break down all barriers and to win thousands to their own triumphant faith.
That's the Christ of the New Testament; and the glory of his person and the wonder of his grace shine back to illumine all the Old Testament-and the ages yet to unfold.
As such, he won the right to be the eternal yardstick to measure all Scripture, all persons, all peoples, all nations and civilizations, now and forever.
And such a Christ deserves our utter devotion and loyalty, even to our saying from the heart in the words of Richard Watson Gilder:
CHRIST THE NORM FOR CHARACTER AND CONDUCT
Chapter IV showed Christ as the yardstick or criterion to measure Scripture. The present chapter aims to show him as the moral norm to measure persons and peoples.
When Jesus came to earth, it was "not to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10: 34). He found himself in violent conflict with the national aims of his people, with their laws and customs, with their concept of goodness and religion. From the first he saw there could never be any peace made between his concept of the right or the good and the concept of his nation's leaders, whether in ethics, or politics, or religion. There was an inherent tension that could never be resolved. This fact he faced with his eyes open, knowing it would make his death inevitable. And he chose to go unflinchingly to the cross, sure it was the will of his Father, necessitated by a tension that could be resolved, if at all, only by his vicarious death. His death was far more than a martyrdom; necessity for it inhered in the very essence of a situation that left God a sufferer, and compelled Jesus to share his suffering and to become a redeemer through his suffering vicariously.
Background for Measuring
This gives the essential background against which to view Christ as the touchstone for the character and ethics of any person, any people, any nation or civilization. Chapter IV measured Scripture by Christ as the yardstick. The present chapter uses him as the measure of persons and peoples. Since God was from eternity identically the God and Father revealed by Jesus, God's norm for judgment was from eternity his own holy, unchangeable nature, which was mirrored in Jesus Christ. As we have seen, Jesus genuinely revealed what God was like from eternity, and what God requires in the character and conduct of all individuals and peoples. This is the essential starting point for measuring and weighing all the characters great and small in the Old Testament history.
We begin with Abraham, the great ancestor of the Hebrew people, and one of the illustrious names, not only in the history of Israel, but in the history of all the race. His luster cannot be dimmed. But it is essential to a realistic interpretation of the Bible story to take a realistic measure of the character of Abraham and of other Old Testament worthies in the perspective of history.
It is human and inevitable to think back and to put a luster about any person who has served his generation nobly and lifted it higher. Inevitably the future puts an imagined halo about him never seen by the people of his own time. So to idealize one is a virtue, but it may easily be deceptive.
Time placed an imagined halo around Israel's great ancestor, and we have to remove it in order to see Abraham as he was in the life of his time.
Old Testament Heroes in Perspective of History
Abraham stands out as one of the noblest pioneers of the race, blazing a trail forward for all generations through his sublime faith in God and his ready obedience. And, in his magnanimous treatment of his contentious nephew Lot, he stands out as one of the truest gentlemen of all time, and as one of the noblest pioneers of the race toward peace and good will in a world of hate. But there is no glossing over the fact that he was so blinded by the moral blindness of his time, and so in bondage to evil custom and to the evil in his own nature, that he used his handmaid as his concubine and as the rival of his wife, and had a child by her-and later, on his wife's revolt, drove the concubine and her child and his into the wilderness! And he apprehended so dimly the nature of God as to suppose God could be pleased with a human sacrifice, even that of his own son Isaac! If good and great relative to his generation, yet in the light of such facts as these he looks pathetically little when placed up against the norm, Christ.
And how far below Christ's standard for a good man was Moses. Though a glorious character in his time, and the greatest lawgiver of the race, his legal code being as a whole a marvel of justice and wisdom, yet he saw justice so dimly that he wrote the awful statute, we have to assume, recognizing witchcraft and unwittingly dooming witches to torture and death even down to recent times (Exodus 22: 18)! He wrote a statute, we assume, permitting a master to beat his slave fatally and to go free "if he continue a day or two, . . . for he is his money" (Exodus 21: 21)! And in the later code of Deuteronomy, which likely echoes the attitude of Moses, we find the statutes ordering the stoning to death of an idolater, even the annihilating of a city of idolaters (Deuteronomy 13: 7-10; 12: 18); the stoning of a stubborn and rebellious son (21: 18-21), and of a woman found guilty of unchastity (22: 21). Moses stands secure among the immortal great of the ages, both as man and as lawgiver, but such evidence shows that often he saw justice "through a glass darkly." Though a towering figure in history, he dwarfs in size when brought up against the holy, majestic figure of Christ.
Even David, idealized by later Israel as its patron saint and sweet singer and model king, notwithstanding all the noble traits of his character and splendor of his achievements, has to be pilloried forever for the gross sins of adultery and murder. The glorious Elijah, in his zeal for Jehovah, bears the stigmas of slaughtering the 450 priests of Baal, and for the tradition attaching to him that he called down fire to burn up two enemy captains and their fifties. And even Amos, the mighty preacher of justice and righteousness, was yet a preacher with never a note of sympathy or pity for those he condemned. The matchless Isaiah, for all his noble dream of a divine kingdom to include all nations and peoples, yet conceived of it as a kingdom in which a redeemed Israel would be dominant and ruling all other peoples. In a word, the immortal great of the Old Testament history fall immeasurably below the ideal seen in Jesus Christ. Despite the record here and there of a beautiful character like Joseph or Daniel, the great of the Old Testament are distinctly sub-Christian.
Judged by Christ as the Norm
Reaching toward a true evaluation of Israel's great heroes, we must bring Christ back and place him beside them as the norm of judgement: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Amos, Isaiah. In the presence of all these great ones, Christ is seen to tower above them in incomparable moral grandeur.
We recall the remark of Charles Lamb, "If Shakespeare were to enter this room, we all would rise in his honor; if Jesus were to enter, we all would fall at his feet in reverence." Before him indeed all these greatest in Israel's past might properly fall down in homage; for beside him they all seem like sinning, stumbling, groping children.
And how could it be otherwise? How can a little child be good unless it sees goodness personified daily in its parents? And it would be absurd to expect Abraham and Moses and David to act like New Testament saints, living as they did far back in that dim past when no mortal had conceived of the perfect model of goodness and love that would be seen in the matchless son of Mary! For those with eyes to see, there is infinite pathos in the sight of these ancient immortals straining their eyes toward the future horizon to catch a glimpse of the Coming One and wondering what he would be like! He would be their Deliverer, but better still, he would be in his own person the archetypical man-the kind of man they would each like to aspire to become!
But these ancient immortals were utterly without a human model! They groped their way forward with no definite goal of character to attain to, and no certain light to guide them into the dim future, not even a concept of God as unfailingly holy and loving, pitying and forgiving-such as in due time Jesus showed him to be. There is infinite pathos again in Jesus' famous reference to John the Baptist, of whom he said that none greater than John had been born of women, "yet he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11: 11). It was greatness, indeed, that John had an insight "almost divine" to recognize Jesus as the long-expected Messiah, and boldly to become his herald to the nation, challenging it to repent and to be ready for his coming-and then at the height of his fame as a preacher, with a humility hardly equalled among the sons of men, to fade out of the picture and to become a nobody, saying, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3: 30)! That is greatness indeed!
But then comes the stunning statement, "He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Jesus counted John as the last of the great Old Testament prophets. Yet John merely came to the threshold of the kingdom and got a peep at the wonder and glory inside. As Jesus told the disciples, many prophets and wise men and kings had longed for the privilege they enjoyed of seeing and hearing him and his teaching close-up and grasping from him what was the ultimate meaning and goal of life, and feeling his mighty drawing power; but that privilege was denied them. It was denied even to John. He only heard reports and wondered. He wasn't inside to get a close-up of Jesus, to see the dazzling wonder of Jesus' love in action as he preached and healed and poured himself out for even publicans and sinners, and like even one of the rabble round Jesus to be melted to wonder and love, so as to become a lowly disciple. That was to be greater than John!
The picture is one to melt the coldest heart. It is saying that not even Abraham or Moses, David or Elijah, Isaiah or John the Baptist, for all their longing to catch a glimpse of the Messiah, was able to grasp as much of the wonder of his person and the glory of his kingdom as the simplest peasant that followed Jesus daily and saw him close-up, and felt the spell of his yearning love! And yet each of these immortal great yearned and tried!
Judgement Softened by Mercy
This thought brings us face to face with a moral dilemma in the play of God's justice and mercy, which it is not easy to resolve. The sins all too manifest in these Old Testament heroes must surely be judged by Christ as the norm. But we cannot doubt that he, like ourselves, would consent for Abraham and Moses and Elijah to be honored highly as moral and spiritual pioneers of the race. Like Jesus, they and the other Old Testament heroes went far ahead of their contemporaries in blazing a trail upward to the heights, often with mocking and scorn such as he himself suffered. There is always in the moral trail-blazer in any age a true greatness which shines out in the moral darkness of his time like a beacon. Even God's justice takes note and delights in it!
Therefore, instead of condemning these immortal great of the distant past, we are to judge them with sympathy and charity by the dim light of their time. We cannot but believe that the just "Judge of all the earth" will be as charitable as we at our best. Instead of our judging them harshly, we rather feel our hearts melting in sympathy and charity, we seeing them in historical perspective. We incline to ask ourselves, humbly, "Had we lived in the dim light of that far-off time, would we have done as well as they?"
Yet at the same time our eyes must be open to their imperfections; and we must relentlessly measure them by Christ as the eternal yardstick. They were children in knowledge and attainment, and are to be judged with charity as children, but nonetheless, we must hold them up in all their imperfections to be judged ultimately in the light of the perfect man Christ Jesus.
Honor to Christ indeed requires us to pass judgement on Israel's greatest saints and heroes. It was one of the serious blunders of some of the leaders of the Reformation, especially Calvin, to hold up characters like Abraham and David as above criticism, as if to ask, "Who are you, that you dare to criticize the great patriarch Abraham? Or to judge Israel's ideal king, David? Wasn't Abraham the father of all the faithful? And wasn't David called 'a man after God's own heart'?" Incalculable harm has come from this attitude, sometimes even attempts to excuse lying and concubinage in Abraham, and adultery and murder in David! The halo and the crown must be reserved for Christ alone.
The Pulpit and the Moral Dilemma
Unfortunately the pulpit as a rule does too little to help the public to resolve the moral dilemma raised by the justice and mercy of God. Consequently, for the plain man even the great patriarchs and prophets are left to dangle uncertainly between God's mercy and his wrath. Some think of them as saints, too exalted for criticism. Others wonder how they can even be saved without having had Christ to believe in!
This brings to our attention an area of religious thought too vital and too vast to be left in the twilight zone. The pulpit and the teaching function of the church have a responsibility to let the light into this area and to clear it of the shadows that hang dark over it for thousands of people; and, most important of all, because our thinking in this area involves the nature of God as the norm of judgement.
The crucial question at issue is: Could the God revealed by Jesus-a Father suffering over the prodigal till he came home-could he doom to perdition these noble pioneers and the countless other thousands with them, their eyes peering into the future to catch a glimpse of the promised Messiah, yea, and longing to know if there was a God of love and pity? The old African, hearing for the first time of a God of love, turned to his neighbor and said, "Haven't I always told you there ought to be a God like that?" Jesus gave the answer to this most poignant question of the ages: "From eternity God has been a Father loving 'the world', yearning and suffering over every prodigal."
Too much of current evangelism neglects this essential emphasis on the nature of God in Christ as the eternal norm for judgement, and puts its emphasis on the God of vengeful, cruel acts-incompatible, as we have seen, with the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Fear, it must be agreed, has its proper place in the evangelistic appeal. But it is never legitimate to incite fear of a God represented as doing vengeful, cruel acts, and who will be in this world or the future world a torturer or tormentor. Retribution for sin is certain-it is a matter of experience here and now. It will follow the unrepentant hereafter. But the very nature of the God and Father of Jesus is incompatible with the concept of a God of torture. Retribution and torture are incompatible ideas; one follows inevitably as the penalty of broken law; the other is imposed cruelly and vengefully. The God of Jesus can never be unlike his own holy, loving nature, in time or eternity! Penalty for broken law inheres in the nature of the universe as God made it and is not directly imposed.
It is regrettable that too often current evangelism neglects this vital issue, which is the nature of God in Christ as the norm of judgement, and makes an illegitimate appeal to the fear of a God of vengeful, cruel acts-such acts as we have seen are incompatible with the nature of God as Jesus revealed him.
A leading journal reported the appeal made by a justly famous evangelist in the current scene. Many persons who had gone forward on a profession of faith were taken apart for instruction by an assistant. He said to them, "Now, if you had died on your way to this service before repenting of your sins and professing faith in Christ, according to the Scripture, where would you have gone?" There were hesitating, scattering answers, "To hell."
"But, now that you have repented and asked forgiveness, where would you go, if you died?" "To heaven!" was the loud answer. That is regrettably shallow and artificial and cheap!
Jesus raised the issue, not of a shallow idea of "saved" and "lost"; not of a momentary attitude or act, but of such a transforming vision of Christ as would carry the citadel of the heart and will, and move one to a complete surrender to follow him now and forever. He said of Abraham, "He rejoiced to see my day" (John 8:56). But how dim was that vision! Our appeal must be to gaze on Christ-close-up; to keep the gaze on him, and to follow him, until all the life becomes his. The citadel, it is true, may be carried in a moment-a sudden conversion. But the demand must be to keep the gaze on him, the feet following him, till the mastery is complete, maybe by a gradual conversion. What matter, if only it is real and complete? E. Stanley Jones declares, after talking with thousands of Christians in nearly all lands, that 60 per cent of Christians say that their conversion was gradual.
The proper point of emphasis is that Christ is the norm of judgement, and one's life must conform to his character, and not be left to a feeling or profession of a moment, as if that were salvation complete!
Acid Test of a People or Civilization
The same acid test must be applied to the character and conduct, the ideals and ambitions, of every people, or civilization. For long centuries Israel believed and boasted that it was the elect favorite of Jehovah, while other nations around it were toppling. And none dared to shock them out of their national complacency and egotism till Amos boldly hurled at them the truth that God's order was universal, that he held the plumb line in judgement up against all nations alike; that he judged Israel by the same standard as all other nations, and warned them, "Therefore prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (Amos 4:12)! By the norm of God's holy nature Israel had failed and was doomed as surely as other nations, unless she repented and squared her life and conduct with God's norm.
By the same norm Jesus saw Jerusalem and Israel judged and doomed, and wept over it. Now for three years he had applied that norm to the hollow religion of the scribes and Pharisees, with its emphasis on petty rules and gestures of piety, on sabbath observance and the tithing of mint and anise and cummin, on every jot and tittle of the law. That was shallow, artificial, abominable! He denounced these persons for it as hypocrites and wept over them and the nation they had led to the brink of the precipice. Only a repentance that went to the depths could save them.
Arnold Toynbee traces the rise and fall of 19 distinct civilizations that have come on the stage of history, flourished, and passed out ingloriously. In one way or another each had been confronted with what he calls a "challenge" to the highest it knew, but it lacked the will to make the proper "response." As a result its soul and its morale had died; and it became an easy prey to enemies. Toynbee does not, like Spengler in his philosophy of the rise and fall of civilizations, hold that any civilization is foredoomed to run the vicious circle of birth, growth, decay, death. The symptoms of decay should themselves be the needed challenge to reverse the process and to save civilization. But Toynbee warns us that the usual symptoms of decay and death are already in process in our Western civilization.
Dr. C. B. Dodd devotes an important chapter in The Bible Today to this entire matter, endorsing in the main the position of Toynbee. But he probes deeper beneath the surface signs of decay to discover what God seeks to teach us through his dealing with Israel in history. God as "sovereign over history" sent Israel great prophets to point out the ways of life and death. Deeper than all politics, deeper than all the impacts of enemy nations, were justice, mercy and truth as "fundamental realities." To square the conduct with these was to square it with the nature of the eternal God. To fail was to bring personal and national calamity. And this calamity itself was to be viewed as the "judgement of God" calling for repentance and a reversal of the conduct. Failure and ruin were not inevitable. The calamity of the Babylonian captivity, and threat of the ruin of Jerusalem before the Roman armies each pointed to a previous moral collapse, and should have been accepted as a loud call to repentance and reformation.
The present symptoms of decadence in Western civilization point to something deeper than the tragedy of two world wars and the threat of another, with the threatened financial collapse of the West from the sheer burden of debt and taxes. They point to the previous collapse of the recognized moral standards of Christendom-standards frankly approved, but denied in practice. "Fundamentally, the meaning of our present predicament is that it is God's judgement upon our way of life" (The Bible Today, p. 136).
Our tragic world situation should be accepted as God's judgement calling for wholesale repentance for our personal and national part in bringing God's judgement upon us and the world. Every person among us knows he has not squared his life personally nor corporately with the moral norm seen in Christ and the God he revealed. Many who deeply desire to do so feel inner qualms of conscience over the current trend even of our church life. With symptoms of decay everywhere apparent in our civilization, and with the crisis of suffering millions in all lands echoing in our ears, no deep sob of penitence is in our hearts for our own part in the impending calamity of an atomic war that might even involve the ruin of our planet!
On the contrary, even the church as a whole seeks unconsciously to ease its conscience in an increasingly ornate ritual and a sumptuous architecture never dreamed of before. Church buildings costing beyond the million mark are becoming commonplace. One of the most profound and prophetic thinkers of our generation has called attention to the fact that periods of religious decadence have usually been marked by an ornate ritual and by magnificence in church architecture. As the soul of religion in a people dies, that people instinctively seem to throw up monuments in beautiful art and architecture! A godly man who had been a theological professor in China, now a professor in one of our seminaries, has remarked that he suffers a qualm at each new announcement of a million-dollar church building, he adding plaintively, "I think of what that million would have done for China!"
One thing stands out as certain in the current situation: that church or community, that nation or civilization, is doomed to ultimate decay and disaster that does not square its aims and its conduct with the eternal norm seen in Christ and the nature of the God who is justice and righteousness and holy love and sacrifice.
The present desperate plight of Western civilization and of the world is God's judgement upon us for seeing the way of Jesus Christ, yet refusing to take it. There is yet time, but the hour is late, maybe later than we know. Deep in us we feel what is the way out. For we can't doubt that God offers a way. And dimly we sense what the way is. Maybe it is the way of the early Christians-into the catacombs-to die! Actually that proved to be a way out. And by that way the church won everlasting renown, and triumph over its enemies.
Dr. Dodd in the volume named refers to the powerful resistance to tyranny offered by Bishop Berggrav and his clergy and the school-teachers of Norway, and by the church in Holland and in some other countries. The effect, he says, was tremendous, and "made history" (pp. 141, 142). It is a reminder to the universal church that it has resources at hand to live-and-die its way from catastrophe to triumph. The only question is its willingness to pay the price of the cross.
The same is the lesson of Gandhi. The little unclad saint has left the conscience of all the world disturbed. Before the eyes of all the world he demonstrated beyond doubt that the power of the cross, the power of suffering for others, is adequate to break down the power of tyranny in state, or church.
The conclusion is obvious: Christ and his cross show the norm for individuals and peoples. Square the life with the norm, and we achieve success and peace and gladness. Refuse, and God's judgement is sure and inescapable.
THE BIBLE AN INSPIRED BOOK
THE PRESENT CASE FOR INSPIRATION
After discussion in Part One of the Bible as a progressive revelation, it now seems desirable to return to the thesis of Chapter I, that the Bible contents carry their own authentication as divine, with no need of bolstering. If so, what becomes of the various theories of inspiration that in the past have played so prominent a part in the discussion of the Bible as a book from God?
So great confusion resulted in the past from theories of inspiration that many scholars prefer not to use the word inspiration. They hold that it is "ancient, ambiguous, and confusing." There are, indeed, two obvious objections to one's holding any theory of inspiration: (1) It implies doubt whether the contents of the Bible can take care of themselves without being bolstered by a dogma; (2) It implies doubt whether the Bible reader can get from the Bible God's measure unless he is sent to it with a set theory of how he is to interpret it. Either would be a false assumption, and far from complimentary either to the reader or to the Bible itself.
Dr. John Clifford said he had found that 90 per cent of the difficulties about the Bible, especially in the case of young men, were not due to the Bible itself, but to theories about its inspiration, composition and the like (Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pp. 4, 10).
The Case for Verbal Inspiration
The various theories of verbal inspiration pose one of the most singular phenomena of human history. It grows out of the fact that always and everywhere devout souls have cried out for an authoritative voice about the nature and will of God, and about the meaning and end of human life. And in answer to this cry ever and again some bold priest or prophet has dared to rise up, claiming to have heard the direct voice of God and to have written it down. These men brought convincing credentials that they were not mere imposters. They have to be reckoned with in the perspective of history. Thus the sacred books of the world have had their origin. Briefly we consider several of such books:
The Bible of the Hindus. From very early times the Hindus have been taught and have believed that "holy men of God" literally "saw" the actual words of the Vedas and wrote them down so exactly that no error in word or fact ever crept into the text. These sacred books accordingly came to be accepted as the final and infallible authority on practically every subject. No other theory of verbal inspiration was ever more hard and fast. Even to the present this theory profoundly influences the daily lives of hundreds of millions in India and the Far East.
The Bible of the Mohammedans. Mohammed gave it out that Gabriel dictated the Koran to him word-for-word on numerous visits and amid great wonders. Sometimes Gabriel spoke out of dazzling brightness. Sometimes angels came, each with 600 wings. Sometimes a bell rang as a signal. Once Mohammed was carried to heaven. Sometimes he was terrified, once almost to the point of suicide. His own mind was always passive as the voice spoke.
Thus countless millions of Muslems have believed-believed that the Koran is "the only sacred book in which the words and phrases were given by a divine voice." Again it is the extremist kind of verbal inspiration.
The Bible of the Mormons. If a relatively obscure religion, its claim for the inspiration of its bible is as bold as the boldest. It was delivered by an angel to Joseph Smith on golden plates with a key for translating it into English! (see article "Inspiration," Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics; Article "Mormons," Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia).
The Ancient Hebrew Scriptures. It was expressly claimed by the Torah that God dictated at least the Pentateuch to Moses word for word, the "Ten Words" being written by "the finger of God" on tablets of stone. Many held that the human faculties of the Bible writers were suspended, the Spirit playing on the human instrument as the musician strikes the harp or lyre, the musician getting what sounds he may.
It was long held that even the Hebrew vowel points were dictated, until it came definitely to be known that the old Hebrew manuscripts had no vowel points, these being invented and inserted in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D.
This statement poses a stupendous problem: Christianity goes before the court of world opinion with claims for its Bible precisely as extravagant as those offered by the other great religions! Can it establish them?
Roman Catholic versus Protestant Views of Inspiration
A scholarly article in Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics shows sharp differences between Roman and Protestant views of inspiration. In general, Catholics hold that God revealed himself clearly alike in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and so the two are equally inspired and authoritative. Also, each book of the Bible is equally inspired in all its parts. It is almost equivalent to saying the entire Bible was guarded against all error in word and fact, and that no word is unimportant. Yet this view does not go unchallenged by some Catholic authorities. Moreover, the Roman Church reserves the right to interpret what each book or passage means.
The Protestant view is quite different. Leading Protestant scholars in general approach the Bible by the inductive method, just as scientists approach Nature, letting the facts speak for themselves. In the article named above, Rothe is quoted as putting it neatly: "Let it go forth . . . a book like other books; . . . let it accomplish what it can of itself through its own character . . . and it will accomplish great things." It is the thought emphasized in Chapter I and summed up in the saying of Coleridge, "The Bible finds me." The truth of this saying is confirmed generation after generation: through the Bible "God finds the soul and the soul finds God." Multitudes of Christians believe this sums up the power of the Bible for every reverent reader. As one expresses it, "I find the witness in my heart that none other than God himself is able to speak such words to my soul."
Some authorities put the main emphasis on the writer as inspired; others, on the writings as inspired. A balanced view would seem to be that the two go together: an inspired writer produces inspired writings-yet with a question whether it is wholly a matter of cause and effect.
The Meaning of Inspiration
The statement above poses the question: what is inspiration? As the word implies, God is thought of as breathing into the writer, and through him into the writing, something of his own divine nature, and something withal that the soul attuned to the will of God will be able to feel as divine. For God has so adjusted the divine truth to the essential nature of man that this truth is intrinsically fitted to win a response from his mind and heart. It goes home, and he feels in his soul that it is from God. He feels it the more in proportion as he is surrendered to obey the divine will (John7:17). As a reverent soul reads the Bible he feels something going on within him-something God seems to be doing to him; something moreover that he feels God must have done to the writer as he wrote. That something is inspiration. As he reads, he feels gripped by something coming from beyond and something deeper than the words, something indeed far too deep and meaningful to be called by so shallow a term as "verbal inspiration." Millions of the noblest of the earth have felt this as something out of the Infinite, and could not doubt that it was God speaking through the written words!
Degrees of Inspiration
And this "something" will be felt far more in some parts of the Bible than in others. Normally, for example, one feels this something very little in Leviticus, Judges, or Song of Songs; he feels it far more in Psalms, Isaiah, and Amos; he feels it at its highest in the Sermon on the Mount and in some of the exalted passages of Paul's epistles. One does not need to be told such passages are inspired; the devout soul knows it of himself; something "from beyond" seems to speak to him through the words.
Why not go further and acknowledge gratefully that God speaks to us also through inspired words and objects outside the Bible? In the majesty of the mountains or the ocean, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the wonder of the starlit sky; in the "Hallelujah Chorus," Paradise Lost, St. Paul's Cathedral, God speaks an inspired message to the reverent soul, stirring emotions of the beautiful and the sublime. The eminent Bible scholar William Sanday rightly urges us to believe and rejoice in the fact that other peoples and religions and other Sacred Books have a measure of inspiration in the true sense that God reveals his truth in them each to a degree.
Also, beyond the roll of Bible heroes, who can doubt that God in a true sense "inspired" certain immortals to blaze out in history with a luster that time cannot dim! Such was Socrates, about to drink the hemlock and to die for his convictions, and talking calmly to his judges, while some wept, about the worth of the good life here and hereafter; King Asoka of India in the third century B.C., who, following a religious conversion to Buddhism, professed "profound sorrow and regret" for his cruel wars of conquest and who during the rest of his reign sent missionaries in all directions preaching "universal brotherhood and peace"! In our own time God surely "inspired" the strange little man Gandhi to disturb all the world with his mighty demonstration that a nation actually can best conquer enemies by refusing to fight and by dying for those principles in the spirit of Jesus. Gandhi did a strange thing to history. He dramatized for the entire world to see the futility and stupidity of war, showing there is a better way!
To say all this in no way detracts from any worthy theory of Bible inspiration. Rather, it broadens our idea of the love and yearning of God to reveal himself to all men and to win their love and obedience. He reveals himself uniquely in his inspired Book, but also in many inspired people and things into which he "breathes" a portion of his own divine Spirit. And this should send every reverent soul out to walk the earth looking ever for the footprints of God and listening for a whisper saying, "Uncover your head and bow in worship, for God is here seeking to speak and to make himself known."
Inspiration as Divine-Human Intercourse
An idea of inspiration was handed down to us from Plato and Josephus and some of the great church fathers, that divine inspiration is something God does to a human soul in ecstasy when the human faculties are suspended. That view is discredited by modern psychology and by human experience, and has been abandoned. Thousands of noble saints and seers have testified not only that God's Spirit communicated with their spirits, but that the communication came when their own spiritual faculties were most alert and active. The divine Spirit acting upon the human spirit simply kindles it into its highest activity. Only, it must be held that God's Spirit forever takes the initiative, he ever present, ever seeking to bestow his blessing, limited only by man's capacity and readiness to receive.
Also it must be held that the divine Spirit leaves the human spirit free to act in its own way. This is notably true of the Bible writers. The divine message was inevitably colored by each writer's personality as definitely as light passed through a colored window is colored by the glass. It was affected by his own ideas of God, his own mental predilections, his bias, his prejudices, even by his degree of culture and his style of writing.
Such Inspiration Adequate
We may safely hold the view that the one concern of the great Inspirer of Scripture was to get over the truth in a form and manner adequate for man's need. He was content to use "earthen vessels" to convey it, content also to let each inspired writer express the truth in his own unique way, and "colored" by his own personality and mentality; colored also, it must be remembered, by the ancient language in which alone as a rule the writer was able to express himself; colored further for us by the necessity of translating the writer's words into our own tongue.
All this is a wholesome reminder that the Bible as we have it has had a history that shows its roots going down into the good black earth where the race has toiled and suffered and found God real in experience. The result for us is a comfortable sense of having a Bible springing out of the life of the race at its very roots, and written by men in those exalted moments when the soul was sure it confronted God and heard him speaking in an inner voice.
Seeing that the Bible is thus rooted in the solid reality of history and in man's experience of God, we may dare to feel it is secure regardless of any theory of miraculous inspiration. Indeed we may well believe such miraculous stories of origins as we noted in the beginning of this chapter are a decided strain on the credulity of the modern mind. In fact, the miraculous claims made by other religions for their sacred books look to us puerile and pathetic. If we are realistic, we must believe that some of the claims made for the early Hebrew writings, and the claim still made by many for the verbal inerrancy and infallibility of our Scriptures must inevitably make them suspect in the eyes of millions of thoughtful people, to play into the hands of powerful enemies who are sworn to destroy Christianity and its Bible. Indeed, the future of Christianity seems more secure if we rest in such simple claims for Bible inspiration as we have indicated just above.
William Sanday has an impressive passage (Oracles of God, pp. 34-46) that invites careful thought. He pictures the early Christian disciples as going out among the plain people, Christians or pagans, taking rolls of their Scriptures and asking them to read, without any theory of inspiration. Some of the rolls would be from the Old Testament Scriptures, others would likely be passages from the Gospels and the Epistles, the latter only beginning to be thought of as Scripture on a par with the Old Testament. Did they need any theory of inspiration?
Even the pagans found on nearly every page passages that "spoke to their hearts with power." They might pass over fascinating stories like those of Joseph, Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, without being deeply impressed. But numerous passages would strike home: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want"; "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow"; "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him"; "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"; "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Such passages simply "found them." These went home to their hearts, utterly regardless of any theory of inspiration. And pagans by the thousands, and in time by the millions, felt sure such words carried their own divine credentials. Those pagans found them "the fountain-light of all their day, the master-light of all their seeing." The truths themselves carried to their hearts the impression that only God could inspire such ideas and such words. And so the pagans became Christians, and pagan religions gave way before such God-inspired truths expressed in life-giving words.
Sanday concludes that plain people then or now "will take their own short cut for determining whether or not the Bible is divine. Does it prove itself to be divine to me? Has it proved itself to be divine to others like me?" The answer comes clear and strong from countless millions through many generations. Such have not bothered their heads with difficulties about data and authorship of books, about the alleged errors and discrepancies mentioned by critics. Only one thing was needed, the truths that met their deepest needs, and satisfied them they came from God.
In that fact, and in that alone, the Bible is secure. Millions of the noblest souls have made the test and rest secure in one fact: God made their souls and the truths of the Bible for each other. In that truth the Bible is secure-more secure indeed than if we trust it to theories of miraculous inspiration.
ISRAEL'S PART IN THE DRAMA OF HISTORY
All Israel's history is an inspired drama, Jehovah its silent director. He chose and trained Israel to play its part in the age-long drama. Notwithstanding all her lapses and failures, Israel's part in the drama has been remarkable. In this chapter we aim to show how God inspired the nation in the mass to play its part, and in the next chapter how God inspired and used Israel's men of genius to play their conspicuous roles.
Israel An Inspired People
In Chapter I we sought to show that God's first step toward giving us inspired Scriptures was to inspire and train a people who alone were capable of producing an inspired book such as the Bible, and we held that even from prehistoric times God had been preparing Israel's ancestors to be a uniquely moral and religious people, and thus uniquely fitted to produce the most intensely moral and religious book known to ancient times. The present chapter aims to show God's method in inspiring a people in the mass.
We maintained in Chapter I that, in order for Israel to produce such an "inspired" book as the Bible, she had to become an "inspired nation" with an "inspired history." To produce such a nation with such a history, God employed a double process of inspiration and training, a general and a special. The special, as we shall see in the next chapter, is through spiritual cataclysms and through towering men of genius. Here we are to consider the ordinary process of slow evolution of a people from a lower to a higher state.
Growth by Slow Evolution
As already noted, even from prehistoric times Israel's ancestors had for many centuries been growing into a people intensely moral and religious, due largely to an environment that left them "alone with the universe" and with God (page 4). Then slowly through 2,000 years of history the divine Architect continued to use all manner of influences to lift Israel higher; intimate contact with Nature and its God; the sight of nations rising and falling as Israel watched from the world's common battleground in Palestine; Israel's own lapses into sin and idolatry and the punishment it always brought; the simple instruction in the moral law by a long line of plain judges and rabbis, and by the preaching of great prophets; the growing experience of God as holy and loving, always wooing and pleading, always ready to punish or forgive-all these and countless other influences went into making Israel slowly the inspired people it became.
This method of slow "inspiration" accords with God's usual method in the physical or the moral universe. Changes usually come, not by cataclysms, but by a slow, gentle process. Slowly the grass or the lily grows, we know not how. Slowly its life is fed through its roots and from the air, its moisture supplied by the dew and the gentle shower. By a slow "miracle" the acorn bursts its hull and a new oak begins to reach upward; or a grain of corn sprouts, and a new stalk begins to grow, both of them equally slow "miracles." But in each case is it not equally the miracle continuing as the oak slowly rises into the giant of the forest, or as the stalk of corn produces the fertilized shoot, then the ripened ear? All the process of nature is so "miraculous" and so slow and silent that one looking on and listening sees and hears nothing at all.
Equally so in the spiritual world. A cataclysm may occur in the soul-a sudden conversion; or in the community-a sweeping revival. But even so the "miracle" likely is not as cataclysmic as it seems, but is rather like the tree roots slowly growing in the fissure of the cliff, or beneath the pavement. Slowly, slowly it grows and expands till it bursts the cliff or raises the pavement! Do we think of a conversion as a sudden miracle? Even the "sudden" conversion is but a step in God's method of producing a saint; in God's plan the "miracle" is for the man to continue on and on into the mature, ripened saint; the revival that shakes the community to continue on and on in lives slowly transformed and in a community or a people gradually made new.
We belittle the long slow process of evolution by which God is content to change individuals or a people, if we fix our eyes on cataclysms like wars and the overthrow of dynasties, or on the spiritual upheaval that threw out geniuses like Moses or Elijah or Amos or Paul. The Israel that God was to use in the grand drama of history was slowly growing in the masses of the people, unseen by men but nurtured by God. Here and there we are permitted a glimpse of God silently at work: the little Moses, cradled on the Nile, nursed and taught a few years by his godly mother, then taught by God in the desert for 40 years as he tended sheep; or the little Samuel, son of a praying peasant mother, who taught him several years and then gave him back to God; or the boy David, away from home with the sheep and with God, and learning to write beautiful psalms and delighting in the music of his harp. Each of them was getting acquainted with God, to be ready when God should call. Already Israel was a uniquely religious people, and these are but samples of how God was silently at work in many thousands of Hebrew homes, preparing a people to play a marvelous role in the dramas of history.
God's Use of Saints and Prophets
From such humble beginnings would spring some of Israel's towering men of genius, who would shine out like meteors and light the way for the plain people upward toward the heights. For one of God's favorite ways to lift Israel upward was through the example and the words of its saints and prophets. That will be the thesis of the next chapter; but we pause here to name several examples of the leavening power of the saint or man of genius.
A striking example is Moses. God's great task was to take a nation of slaves in Egypt, break their shackles, lead them to Canaan, and transform them from slaves into a free and self-respecting, godly nation. His first step was to inspire Moses as his instrument. So God went to him, Moses now for 40 years a keeper of sheep in the Midian desert, and challenged him to a task that was humanly impossible. Moses' response to the challenge made him great. As man and leader and lawgiver Moses towers above the masses in Israel as a mountain peak, snow-capped and glorious, towers above the plain. He was to Israel what Washington was and is to generations of Americans, and more. Each was a glorious, incorruptible, godly character, and both superb leaders. But Moses was much more. He stood before the nation as a model man of God, and publicly stamped as God's chosen leader, and clothed with divine authority.
And Moses gave the nation a code of laws so just and wise as slowly to lift the nation to a higher level, and to serve as a model to influence the laws of every other nation to our own time. Through his long life his influence as man and executive and lawgiver slowly lifted the people from its cowed condition as slaves toward his own high level of divine manhood. And to this day his character and his high moral standard continue to lift humanity Godward.
And so of the long line of God's saints and prophets: the godly Samuel with his message that God requires obedience rather than sacrifice; Nathan daring to tell King David openly that God will not tolerate adultery and murder even in a king, and so giving moral backbone to the nation; Amos and Isaiah, each driven by a compelling sense of the justice and holiness of God to condemn the injustice and greed of Israel's leaders and rulers in words that still burn.
Results Seen in the National Conscience
It is obvious that the burning messages of the prophets against sin and iniquity did not fall wholly on deaf ears. Before Amos and Isaiah forged their thunderbolts to hurl against the injustice and oppression and iniquity of their day, God had for centuries been inspiring in the mass of the nation a growing sense of the holiness of God and of his hate of the sins which the prophets were to condemn. And at last a conviction has seeped into the public conscience that such burning words from the prophets were true and were justified. The conscience of the masses in general had come to be actually on the side of the prophets. Else the prophetic message would have fallen into a moral vacuum, to be as "pearls before swine." The rulers and the high-ups might scoff at the message and persecute the prophets, but in the long run the masses heard and approved. Slowly through the centuries the moral level of the nation had been rising toward the level of the prophets.
Accordingly, C. H. Dodd remarks that the unheard-of loyalty of Hosea to his harlot wife-a wife liable to stoning under the Mosaic law-would have been almost unthinkable if the society in which he was brought up had not developed the institution of marriage to a relatively advanced stage, and if a "degraded sexuality" around him had not in part driven him to such an extreme act of loyalty to his marriage vow (Authority of the Bible, p. 275).
Dr. A. B. Davidson names, as perhaps the most striking result of the long moral crusade of the prophets, the adoption in the time of King Josiah of the code of Deuteronomy as the law of the land (Hastings Bible Dictionary, article "Prophecy"). After centuries of preaching, at last the moral demands of the prophets had carried the national conscience, and its verdict was approved and written into the law of the nation. But with that victory of the prophets, Davidson remarks, both the moral message of the prophet and the prophetic office itself virtually ceased in Israel. Henceforth the prophet was no more a moral crusader. Yet Jeremiah perceived that the law was only external, and so his message became a demand for a "new heart" that would voluntarily obey the law.
Israel's Unique Part in the Drama of History
Thus far in this chapter we have considered how God slowly inspired and trained Israel to play a leading part in the drama of history. We now name some particulars in which its part in the drama was uniquely great:
1. Giving the World Its Loftiest Idea of God
Doubtless Israel's greatest gift to mankind was its concept of God and his will for men. Israel took the concepts of God held by the Babylonians, Egyptians and other peoples round about them, purified and enriched them, and arrived at the noblest concept held by any ancient people. No people can rise higher morally and spiritually than the concept it holds of God. And Israel's concept of Jehovah lifted the Hebrews morally and spiritually far above all their contemporaries.
As we saw in Chapters II-IV, Israel's concept of God was at first dim and mixed with much error. They conceived of him as a God of war and leading them in their wars of conquest, as taking vengeance on Israel's enemies-and even on sinners in Israel. But gradually their idea of God rose, and under the influence of the great prophets of the eighth century he became a God infinitely holy and righteous, loving and forgiving.
Dr. H. Wheeler Robinson shows convincingly (Religious Ideas of the Old Testament) that what the prophets of this period did to ennoble the idea of God marked indeed an epoch in religious thought. They brought to Israel a profound conviction that God was personally present in Israel doing "mighty acts." His presence became a fact of experience. And he was holy and demanded that they be holy and righteous like him. The idea was new and epoch-making in religion: religion and morality were inseparable in the mind of God. The great prophets spurned a religion that was not just and righteous in dealing with one's neighbors. Jesus denounced such a religion as mere piosity and hypocrisy. It was this moral intensity of the great prophets which, more than anything else, made Israel and its religion unique among all ancient peoples. It regarded the nature of God as intensely moral, and morality as the law of the universe. This perspective stemmed from the divine word, "Be ye holy; for I am holy."
2. The Moral Interpretation of History
Another idea of tremendous value to the thinking of the race was the moral interpretation of history held by the Hebrews. So strong was the emphasis of the prophets on God as moral that Israel's experience of God became distinctly a moral experience. God was holy and loving, and he required all men to be like him. The prophets burned that truth as a conviction into Israel. And one fact was certain: if God was here in the heart demanding that men be holy and righteous and loving, then he must be out there in history demanding that nations be the same. It meant that holiness and justice, kindness and love were God's law for the world. History was geared to that law. Nations, including Israel, must obey that law or perish!
Amos was the first to grasp that law clearly and to declare it. That to him was the great interpretative principle in history, past, present, and future. Boldly he declared it. To Israel it was like a thunderbolt, and revolutionary. He calls the roll of the nations: "This nation, and this, and this transgressed God's moral law, and perished. And you, O Israel, are no better than they. 'Therefore prepare to meet thy God, O Israel'" (4: 8).
Professor Toynbee in his great study of history does the same. He finds that 19 civilizations have appeared on the stage of history, flourished for a time, and then perished. Finally he examines our own Western civilization and points out that the seeds of decay are already seen at work in it, and sounds out a prophetic warning reminding us of the warning of Amos to Israel: We dare not violate God's law for nations, the law of justice and holiness, kindness and love; turn from hate and war, and live according to the law of justice and kindness and love-or else! Looking back over the history of the nations of his day, Amos was sure that was the law for nations and for the world. No one today seems inclined to propose a better key to interpreting history.
Amos did an amazing thing: he set the history of Israel and of the other nations in the framework of God's world and God's eternal moral purpose for mankind. This moral interpretation of history stands out as one of Israel's great contributions to the world.
3. Producing the First History of the World
Israel's moral interpretation of history led to one striking result: the writing of the first history of the world. Lacking such a view of history, nations other than Israel had chronicled the deeds of their kings or dynasties, but had written no continuous history. As far back as several thousands of years B.C. Egypt had begun to preserve the records of its rulers, but had not attempted to write a continuous history. Manetho wrote the first Egyptian history about 250 B.C. Babylon and Assyria preserved libraries recording the great deeds and laws of their rulers and dynasties, but wrote no history till the third century B.C. Nor had China or India gone much further toward writing a continuous history. Israel alone grasped the concept of a divine moral purpose guiding nations toward "one far off divine event," and so alone had a philosophy of history making the writing of continuous history meaningful or important.
Eminent historians today hold that Greek history had its birth in the fascinating tales of travel told by Herodotus at the Olympian games about 450 B.C. But 400 years before that date, or at about 850 B.C., some Hebrew writer of remarkable literary charm took the nation's vast wealth of chronicles, biographies, myths and folk-tales and wove them into a continuous history of mankind from creation to the time of David-the first continuous world-history ever attempted. It is our Bible in the main from Genesis through Kings. It aimed to answer man's poignant questions: Whence came the universe and man? What is God like? Why sin and suffering? Does life have meaning and a goal?
If it is the oldest history of the world, it is also remarkable for its literary charm. Herodotus does not excel the writer as a literary artist and charming story-teller. The story of David in II Samuel, chapters 9-21, equal in literary quality the most charming passages in Herodotus. Also many stories woven into the history are literary masterpieces: the stories of the Creation, Fall, Flood; of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; of Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Samson, Samuel, Saul, David, have had a fascination for all peoples and races through thousands of years.
But in one particular this history is unique. The Hebrew historian wrote with prophetic moral earnestness. For to him history revealed the character and ways of God; and so he wrote history with "deadly terrible earnestness" and the desire to make men moral and good. God is its hero and edification its purpose.
4. Giving Mankind One of Its Greatest Religions
Little needs to be added here to what was said in Chapter I (p. 2) about the four central ideas in the religion of the Old Testament Hebrews. Those ideas as purified and enriched by the great prophets of Israel, and enriched further by the Spirit of Christ in the New Testament, justify the claim that the Hebrew religion ranks easily among the great religions of mankind. Even from early times those ideas, passionately avowed and earnestly practiced by the Hebrew people, made them far and away the most intensely moral and religious people of their time, preparing them to embrace and propagate the Christian religion. It was for this reason primarily that Jesus and Paul and the other early evangelists habitually sought out the Jews in the synagogues. Already they held much in common with the Christians, and the Hebrew Scriptures were for years the only Bible of the Christians. History recognized that all other peoples and religions owe to the Hebrews a vast debt for their exalted concept of God and their higher moral law and their superior attainment in character and conduct.
5. The Greatest of the World's Religious Books
Many eminent critics are agreed that, even apart from the New Testament, the Bible is par excellence the world's greatest sacred book. The Old Testament Scripture was a veritable fountain of life to the Hebrew people. They loved it passionately, and taught it earnestly to their children. They became literally the "people of a Book" and the book molded the nation's character, and shaped its personal and national life. The passionate moral appeals of the prophets, written mostly in poetic form, mightily stirred and shaped the conscience of the nation. The thrilling stories of the nation's heroes and saints, read in their Scriptures and told to their children, put a glow of national and religious fervor into the heart of the nation. The total result was a nation inspired and unique among all the peoples of the earth, a miracle of history produced largely if not mainly by a book ministered by the Spirit of God.
It remains only to point out a few of the characteristics of the Old Testament as a great book-maybe at the cost of some repetition of ideas given in Chapter One, pp 4-9, We need only to be reminded of the leading characteristics mentioned there: the intense moral earnestness of the Hebrew writers, and their conviction of the greatness and holiness of God; their deep sense of a mission to make him known to the world; their extraordinary power to dramatize their message, and to stir the emotions by use of poetry and pictorial language, and finally by keeping forever before the reader Israel's hope of a grand climax impending, when virtue will be rewarded and sin punished.
More specifically we mention several marks of greatness in the Old Testament as a literature of power:
Its Superb Stories
Simply as a story book the Old Testament may rightly be classed among the great books of the world. And for two main reasons: (1) the consummate ability of the unknown writer who about 850 B.C. compiled the Hebrew history and literature. He is unsurpassed by any story-teller of all time for his brevity, simplicity, rapidity of movement, and for his vividness and dramatic power. With the stroke of a master he touches his characters and incidents to life. (2) It is a safe conclusion that most of the stories had come by the way of the great stories of the world in general: for generations parents had told them to their children, and minstrels had sung them, polishing and repolishing them. Finally the unknown writer put on them his own superb literary stamp, always dominated by the aim to illustrate the nature and ways of God, and to make the nation godly by means of his stories. This by no means lessens our appreciation of them as inspired stories; it is only recognizing that they have had a history like the Bible as a whole.
For as perfect, polished, appealing story the world has nothing finer than the story of Joseph, with its grand climax seen as Joseph weeps in making himself known to his brothers and helping them forgive themselves for their selling him into slavery. For inciting to moral heroism the world has nothing finer than the story of Daniel, staking his life on following his conscience and his God. The novelist Charles Reade said the story of Jonah is "the most beautiful short story every written in so small a compass." What a pity when some persons miss both its literary artistry and its deep missionary appeal, and jest about it as a fish story! Even the wild stories of blood and battle-Deborah, Jephthah, Samson, David and Goliath-are superbly told, and may be read without harm by children, if they are kept alert to the principle of progressive revelation: "Christ had not yet come to bring nobler ideas of God and right."
Great Bible Dramas
By general agreement of Bible scholars, Job and Song of Songs are two of the greatest dramas in any literature. Read as such, they can be enjoyed as superb literary gems. Of Job Thomas Carlyle wrote (Heroes and Hero Worship): "One of the grandest things ever written with pen, . . . so soft, and great: as the summer midnight, as the world with its seas and stars! There is nothing, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit." Job was written with the serious aim of uprooting the popular belief that suffering was proof that one was wicked. In protest, the writer gave the world one of its greatest dramas, with the good man Job violently protesting against the charge that God was punishing him for his being wicked, and God in the grand climax fully vindicating him.
Song of Songs is a drama in exquisite poetry, made up of passionate love and wedding songs, often sung in a pageant during the seven-day Hebrew wedding festival, such indeed as are seen yet today in Syrian villages. Understood as a pageant aimed at exalting love and marriage, and without any of the allegorical meaning that so long attached to it, it both makes sense and thrills one with the exquisite beauty of its poetry.
Psalms. Too much can hardly be said of Psalms even as great literature. A few may be named as superb examples of great literature: 19, 23, 46, 51, 91, 103 121, 139.
But as a devotional literature of power, Psalms remains even for our own time among the richest treasures in the world's literature. Through centuries as the beloved hymn and praise book of Israel, it had an incalculable influence in shaping the national character and destiny, and continues to do so for all peoples wherever the Bible is known.
The Wisdom Literature
Besides Job, the Wisdom literature includes Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs contains more wise, pithy, quotable sayings of universal application than can be found in any other book in the same space. They are the finest gems of wisdom in circulation among the Jews, polished and repolished through hundreds of years. So understood, it deserves to be one of the most popular books of the Old Testament, especially for youth.
Ecclesiastes is the outpouring of a soul disillusioned and saddened. He had tried all of life and found it empty. But it also is exquisite poetry, and as such is fitted to voice in vivid poetry the cry of a disillusioned soul. Rider Haggard said of it: " . . . its stately music thrills like the voice of pines heard in the darkness of a midnight gale" (Nelson, Our Roving Bible, p. 91).
The Prophetic Writings
The great prophets wrote with a profound sense of being the mouthpiece of God, and so wrote with emotion, and in short, crisp pictorial language, often blunt and dogmatic. Their "Thus saith the Lord" permitted only the words that would cut their way home like a sword-thrust. Nothing else in literature is more vivid, more pictorial, more dramatic. Thus Amos condemns the cupidity and injustice of Israel's rulers in flaming words. "They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes"; they are so greedy for "the good earth" that they "pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor" (2: 6, 7). Isaiah is equally blunt and vehement: "God looked for justice-and lo, bloodshed! For right-and lo, shrieks from the wronged." (Isaiah 5: 7, Moffatt).
Much of the prophetic language takes the form of the most vivid pictures and figures of speech. Amos pictures the darkness of coming calamity as "the sun going down at noon" (8: 9). In a terrifying picture he paints the inescapable calamity coming on Israel: "A man turns from a lion, and a bear springs at him; he hides indoors, and, resting his hand on the wall, a serpent bites him" (5: 19). He doesn't describe God, he paints him in action: "He that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind . . . that maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning" (4: 13; 5: 8).
Isaiah begins with a short drama in the grand style: the prophet summons Israel, the surrounding nations, God and angels, heaven and earth, all in a cosmic pageantry, to hear God's charge against Israel. God chose and nourished Israel as a child, but the child rebelled and now is doomed. God summons the Assyrians to punish Israel. Isaiah pictures it in a riot of figures; God "whistles for fly and bee," and the enemy comes pouring over the land like an innumerable swarm of bees, settling on bush and pasture-land, shaving the country bare-"shaving off every hair." Changing the figure, the enemy host pours over the land like "the strong, full surge of the Euphrates" (7: 18-20; 8: 7).
Then God pardons Israel and punishes the cruel enemy; God "has broken their yoke," and "lopped Assyria's boughs with his axe " (9: 2-4; 10: 33). The happy result for Israel is "a great light" breaking over the ruined land and a great peace, when the wolf "dwells with the lamb, the leopard lies down with the kid" . . . the cow and the bear and their little ones are friends, and a little child tends them (11: 1, 7, 9).
Finally, redeemed Israel returns from bondage, and God "feeds his flock like a shepherd, and gathers them in his arms, carrying the lambs in his bosom, and leading the ewes gently" (40:11). Heaven and earth are called on to join in celebrating the return: "Sing, O heavens, . . . and shout aloud, O earth below, burst into song, ye mountains, ye forest and all your trees! For the Eternal has redeemed Jacob" (44: 23, Moffatt).
These paragraphs serve but to hint the wealth of beauty and power wrapped up in the pages of a book that went far to make Israel an inspired people. Add to it the New Testament, and we have a book that is indeed the world's best storehouse of literary excellence and spiritual power.
MEN OF GENIUS IN THE DRAMA OF HISTORY
In the preceding chapter we noticed how God infused divine qualities and concepts into Israel by the ordinary slow process of social and moral evolution. But sometimes in history God has transcended this ordinary process of evolution and has unleashed mighty currents of spiritual energy in such cataclysms as the Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival in England, and the Great Awakening in America.
Also we are to notice that sometimes, as if God grew impatient with the slow process of social evolution, he has raised up and inspired those remarkable men of genius who have towered above their generation as trail-blazers and epoch-makers. Often their appearance on the scene could not be predicted nor explained. Sometimes in history they have appeared in groups, like constellations in the sky, have dazzled their generation for a time, then passed off the stage, leaving no successors. These geniuses seem to be of their own time, but also to have some mark to show they came from beyond.
Carlyle describes the genius in a striking passage in Heroes and Hero Worship (p, 64). He calls him "original"; "he comes to us at first-hand. A messenger he, from the Infinite Unknown with tidings to us . . . . Direct from the Inner Fact of things . . . . It is from the heart of the world that he comes, he is portion of the primal reality of things." Also the utterances of the man of genius seem to have the quality of "revelation."
Israel's Men of Genius
In this chapter we are to consider some of the religious geniuses so remarkable in the history of Israel. The first rises in rather dim outline on the horizon of Israel as it emerges from an unknown past. He was to loom glorious in all Israel's future as Abraham, the great pioneer of all the heroes of faith. Centuries pass and another genius rises from the dull landscape to stand out as one of the towering figures of all time-Moses, a marvelous man and the greatest of all lawgivers.
Centuries more pass, and we come to the period of the great prophets of the eighth to the sixth centuries before Christ. Many will agree with C. H. Dodd that this period "threw up religious genius in a succession probably without a parallel in the history of the world" (The Authority of the Bible, p. 27). In this constellation are Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and with them other stars of the second magnitude, like Micah and Ezekiel.
The fourth period for flowering genius is the first Christian century, which gave us Jesus, who dominates all the New Testament scene. With him stand two geniuses above the rest, Paul and John, whose profound thinking and whose books went far to shape the future thought and life of Christianity.
Each of these men of genius stood out above the other men of his time like a mountain peak above the plain, each making a tremendous impact on the thinking and the ideals of his generation, in some cases even changing the course of world history.
Each the Bearer of a Message from God
The outstanding fact to notice about these men of genius is that each came to the people with an overwhelming sense of a message and mission from God. Abraham was sure God had given him a covenant for Israel and a promise that Israel was to become a great people and the bearer of a blessing to "all the families of the earth." Again, Moses at the burning bush had a call to be the deliverer of Israel from Egypt. And Amos explained his sense of mission by the mighty word, "The lion hath roared; who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken; who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3: 8). Isaiah in awed tones cries, "I saw the Lord high and lifted up, and heard him ask, 'Who will go for us?' and I said, 'Here am I, send me'" (6: 8)! He felt he had no choice. Jeremiah laments that God constrains him to go to a nation that refuses to hear; but he has no option. God has armed him with his "Word," which is "like a hammer breaking the rock in pieces" (Jer. 23: 29). Jesus came with a mighty conviction that his Father sent him on an inescapable mission, and he goes unflinchingly, and to the cross!
In every case it is the same. One's contemporaries looking on likely would try to explain: "The time was ripe; the man saw his opportunity and he rose to meet it; the man and the hour had met." His contemporaries might even concede the man had the strange something we call "genius." But in every case the man himself is sure that all such explanations miss the mark. He is sure there is only one explanation, and that very simple: he has heard an Inner Voice coming out of the Infinite, and he recognizes it as the voice of God!
And the results in history attest the truth of this conviction. For each of these "inspired" men is seen mightily to have influenced his contemporaries. Each in his measure lifted his generation higher; if not, then maybe the generation after him. For often one's contemporaries resisted the message, and met it with mocking and scorn. But it is a fact of history that as a rule the mob eventually yields, if ever so little, to the prophet's urge upward. For even after the prophet passes, the mob continues to be haunted by the life and the conscience of the prophet-even the more if the mob has killed him! The saint or the prophet is seen to have personified the truth, and the impact of that truth in the long run could not be resisted. It shined out from the prophet, lighting up the countryside and attracting the community, sometimes the nation, upward toward the divine height which the inspired man was seen to climb.
Saints and Prophets Altar-Stairs up to God
It does not seem far-fetched to think of the great saints and prophets of the Bible as altar-stairs by which the race has climbed upward toward God. As we examine the life and the special contribution each one made to the clearer thinking and nobler living of his generation, we can see Israel and even the race of men in each case take a step upward on some new truth for which the man of God staked his life.
The Sacrifice of Isaac
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is a striking example. Though the incident is regarded by some scholars as a myth, it may well be a true story, worthy of ranking among the famous stories of the world as marking an epoch in the religious life of Israel and of the race. For it may well be that the incident led Abraham to blaze a trail for Israel and the race away from the offering of human sacrifices. It can hardly be doubted that Abraham was familiar with the practice of offering human sacrifices on great occasions. The practice was well-known among the Moabites (II Kings 3:27), and it long persisted even among the Israelites on extraordinary occasions, as in case of Jephthah's offering up his daughter in payment of a vow (Judges 11:34-40). Until made a crime under British law in India, many a devout Indian mother, not daring to offer God less than her best, carried her favorite child as an offering to God on a long journey to the sacred Ganges, and there with a heart-break threw it into the river as an offering to the gods. Abraham is an ancient parallel.
The story as given in Genesis 22 is one of the great stories of the race. Abraham goes on a three-day journey to the sacred mountain with Isaac, sure that even his only son is not too precious to give back as a sacrifice to the God who gave him. It is the highest act of selfless devotion Abraham can conceive. And yet he goes with deep misgiving. "Can it be," his soul cries over and over, "can it be possible that God is like that, to promise me a son and then to wish me to offer him up as a sacrifice!"
Abraham is alert for any token that he is in error. And then like a flash comes the token-a ram close by caught in a bush by the horns! And Abraham cries in his soul, "Evidently God in his providence has arranged this ram as a token that he does not want a human sacrifice!" No doubt is left in his mind. In his soul he hears a voice: "Men have misjudged God. He does not want human sacrifices! I'll stake my life on it, and live to correct such a slander on the nature of God!"
Though human sacrifices in Israel seemed to continue at times into the period of the kings (I Kings 11: 7; II Kings 23: 10), yet, if we assume this story as authentic, we may set down the lesson of the story as marking a major step forward in the revelation of the nature of God. God had shown he does not approve of human sacrifices. Through Abraham this truth gradually lifted the human family higher in its idea of God. No longer could men think of God as cruel and as pleased with human sacrifices. It was a step upward for Israel and the race. This nobler view of God would gradually lift the race higher.
Incidentally, such flashes of inspiration in the high moments of prophets and Bible-writers illustrate God's method of Bible inspiration. Each one in such high moments of insight caught and recorded some new segment of truth for the race.
God's Hate of Oppression
Another step upward for Israel and the race was the experience of Moses at the burning bush. Doubtless many Israelites in Egypt, smarting under the lash of their masters, conceived clearly that God hated oppression But at the burning bush Moses took up the concept and dramatized it for Israel and the world.
Forced to leave Egypt for killing an Egyptian, he has now been for 40 years a fugitive in Midian. Then one day as he gazes in wonder at a bush flaming in the desert (maybe flaming with flowers, yet a symbol of God!), he hears an inner voice bidding him to return to Egypt as the deliverer of his oppressed brethren. He feels it an impossible thing, and protests. But of one thing he is certain: God is here and speaking to him! This he cannot doubt. And, as he feels his own heart burning with righteous indignation at what the Hebrews are suffering from their Egyptian masters, a deep conviction fills his soul: God, who so imperiously calls him to become Israel's deliverer, must himself surely feel as indignant as he! The conviction is overwhelming: God's anger burns against all oppression and cruelty. God must be like that; else, he would not be good!
It is to say that his own deepest experience in this "high moment" is a revelation of what God eternally is. If he himself hates oppression, God still more! God's passion is to destroy all injustice and oppression!
And the conviction in him becomes a passion: "God hates oppression, so must I! I must go to Egypt and undertake the impossible, although nothing like it for sheer audacity was ever conceived of before." He goes to Egypt therefore with a nobler concept of God's justice and of his hate of oppression than anyone had ever felt before in equal measure. He went with the sense of a holy mission in behalf of the suffering and oppressed. Before all Israel and Egypt he dramatized powerfully God's justice and mercy, and in so doing blazed a new trail for all the race. In his own deep experience as an inspired trail-blazer, Israel and the race was rising a step higher in its understanding of what God is like.
The Holiness of God, the Hatefulness of Sin
The epoch-making moments in the history of the race were when two towering figures in Israel grasped clearly the awful holiness of God and the exceeding sinfulness of sin. One moment was when the great king David, guilty of adultery and murder, cowered before the burning indictment of the prophet Nathan in confession of his own sin. Maybe he had felt that a great king could take liberties with sin and get by with it. But under the prophet's scathing word, "Thou are the man!" (II Samuel 12: 7), his awful sin pierced him to the heart. Whether or not the great prayer for forgiveness and cleansing in Psalm 51 is his own prayer, his life and his writings mightily influenced Israel to grasp the ideas of the holiness of God, of the heinousness of sin.
The other epoch-making moment was when Isaiah in the temple saw God in his awful majesty and holiness, and his own sin in contrast, and cried out, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" (Isaiah 6:8). As men and writers, David and Isaiah went far to give Israel, and through Israel the world, the mighty creative ideas of the awfulness of sin and the holiness of God. And there can be no doubt that their moral influence in history is traceable to those two creative moments when God burned into their souls the conviction of his awful holiness and of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It is to say that these two epoch-making men, through a deeper experience of God's holiness and man's sin, took a step upward in their high moments for all that would come after them.
God as a Suffering Lover
It remained for Isaiah's contemporary Hosea, through a heartbreaking experience, to probe yet deeper into the heart of God and to find in him the tenderness and love the human heart hungers for. The wife he loved played the harlot and deserted him, went to the lowest depths and was sold into slavery. Yet he continued to love her and to yearn to buy her back. In love and pity he paid her master the price required, and brought her back home. It was an unheard-of thing, and shocking to the neighbors. And here Hosea takes us deeper into the heart of God than anyone else in the Old Testament.
In his book The Biblical Faith and Christian Freedom Edwin Lewis gives an intriguing interpretation of Hosea's symbolic act in buying back his harlot wife. Lewis holds that it was not because Hosea loved her-"no man could do that," the open harlot she had become! In Hosea's heart is a deep hurt, but not love. He does it only to act out in a living parable the great truth he wanted to preach to Israel-the agony of God's rejected love.
Lewis pictures Hosea bringing her home. The scavenger dogs along the street snarl at sight of such a woman. Hosea's three children see her about to enter the house, and they stalk out in anger, saying, "If she comes in, we go out!" The neighbors are shocked at her being taken back, and Hosea and the woman are ostracized. It is a great "self-crucifixion," not prompted by love but endured in order to preach to Israel by symbol the divine love that will not let Israel go.
Only, I feel constrained to believe Hosea still loved his wife Gomer-which is the traditional interpretation. For, if he loved her still, the parallel is complete, the picture more exquisitely beautiful and moving. If love is the motive, then we see him taking his children in advance into the whole plan and winning their willing cooperation. And I think such a father as Hosea would easily have won them! Hosea would have said to them (I incline to believe he did say it): "Children, we are going to act a wonderful drama-one never dreamed of before: God will help you to love and forgive the fallen wife and mother, and to welcome her back home. For that is exactly how God wants to treat the apostate, harlot nation of Israel." And Hosea's preaching of God's yearning love to Israel would have been all the more convincing and heart-moving to Israel for its seeing all the family acting out in the home the amazing love and forgiveness of God to apostate Israel.
Hosea through his suffering probes deeper into the heart of a suffering God than perhaps anyone else before ever had. Therefore he preaches a more heartmelting message than anyone prior to his time. His message is that God yearns and suffers over sinners! God cries out of his suffering love, "How can I give you up, O Ephraim!" (11: 8). It is the yearning love of the father, crying out for the straying prodigal. It is a near approach to the cry of God in the cross of Christ. The stern Amos powerfully condemned sin, but showed no compassion and pity for the sinner. Hosea out of the tragic suffering of his own heart arrived at the concept, never before reached-and declared with confidence that God loves and suffers over sinning, suffering people.
H. Wheeler Robinson, with his usual clear penetration, makes the striking remark that, when Hosea argued from his love for his bad wife to the love that God must have for sinners, "The principle involved was more important than that which linked a falling apple to a moving star. It made a spiritual pathway along which thought could and did move with confidence" (Religious Ideas of the Old Testament, p. 40). It was indeed a discovery more important than the discovery of the law of gravitation, suggested to Newton by the falling apple. And C. H. Dodd says of this reasoning of Hosea from his own experience to what God must be like, that "we ourselves know, when once it is put to us, that this sort of thing is divine, and, if there be a God at all, he must be like this" (Authority of the Bible, p. 276).
That this truth agrees with the deepest experience of the race is proved by the fact that Hosea's revolutionary view of God, in the words of Dodd, "won its way into the mind of man, and made history." Christianity has indeed settled down to the view of Hosea, that God is a God who goes on loving and suffering and wooing sinners in spite of all they can do to the contrary. Isaiah's Suffering Servant is a near approach to Hosea's concept of a suffering God; the cross of Christ completely dramatizes it.
The great Negro drama Green Pastures reaches its unforgettable climax in playing up Hosea's's concept of a suffering God. True to the concept of the primitive Negro, God is shown in his heavenly office perplexed and baffled. He is near to abandoning men on earth as hopelessly bad. But repeatedly he sees the shadow of Hosea passing his door, and it reminds God of how Hosea suffered over a bad wife and still loved on. At last God asks, "How did Hosea learn to pity like that?" "By suffering!" And God asks himself, "Does it mean that even God must suffer?" He decides he must-and must treat sinners as Hosea treated his harlot wife! Then comes the grand climax. God, looking down from his window, sees Jesus in the midst of the mob bearing his cross up the hill to die. Jesus loves sinners as Hosea did his sinful wife! Thus must God love. He smiles gently and in the grand climax all the chorus of angels bursts into the song, "Hallelujah, King Jesus!"
Incidentally again, it should be pointed out that Hosea is the best possible illustration of God's method in inspiring the Bible writers. In his deep experience of sorrow and suffering he becomes sure that he probes to the inmost heart of God, and that God is eternally a suffering God. In his own deep experience of suffering he feels in his inmost heart that he discovers what is eternally deepest in the heart of God. And thus all the line of great saints and prophets one by one were sure that in their own deepest experience they probed into the heart of God, each one out of that experience adding his own unique contribution to the full-orbed concept of God and his will, each one sure that in such a high moment what he felt was indeed the very truth of God. For saints and prophets to sum up their several experiences in such high moments was to leave us surer that our Bible is inspired than if God had dictated the words of a Book.
Man's Need of a New Heart
It remained for Jeremiah, the last in the galaxy of great Old Testament prophets, to add a concept of God and of spiritual communion with him that is of the highest value. For prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is thrown into prison, cut off from the temple, his life in jeopardy. He is lonely and heart-sick. He is thrown back on himself and on God. In such distress God becomes very real to him. Out of his sorrow and suffering and deep experience of God is born a precious new concept of God and religion never before arrived at so clearly. It is the concept of a new birth and a new heart and a spiritual fellowship with God, anywhere, any time. Let Jerusalem be destroyed, as he is sure it will be, yet God will give men a new heart to love him and to do his will and to enjoy intimate communion with him, even when Jerusalem and the temple are no more. Ezekiel enriched that concept further, and the two together foreshadowed the New Testament concept of a regenerate heart and a spiritual religion.
God No Respecter of Persons or of Races
Isaiah had risen to the concept of a glorious universal kingdom of all nations and races under the redeemed remnant of Israel, but it remained for two unknown, obscure writers to foreshadow vividly the concept of Jesus and Paul, that all men are of one blood and are to treat one another as brothers. These were the writers of Ruth and Jonah. It seems evident that in each case the writer had been pained and grieved at the narrow nationalism of the Hebrews, with their hate and intolerance of all foreigners. Each had fathomed deep into the heart of God, and learned tolerance and compassion for people of all races and nations. Out of such a deep experience of God the writer of Ruth held up to the gaze of Israel the heathen Moabitess Ruth as a beautiful character, marrying an honored Hebrew and becoming an ancestor of Christ. The story was to become one of the gems of literature. Doubtless the writer was inspired to write the story to rebuke the exclusiveness and bigotry of the Hebrews and to show God's love of the Gentile.
Doubtless it was the same pain and grief over the Hebrews' hate of foreigners that inspired another genius to write the exquisite story of Jonah, with a passionate aim to rebuke Hebrew racial snobbery, and to reveal God's eternal yearning over the peoples of other nations and races. The story is the oldest and one of the greatest of missionary books. The heart of it is the pity and yearning of God over the heathen Ninevites-and especially the children and dumb cattle! Even the children and the cattle of the heathen are precious to God!
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It is hoped that this chapter has impressed on the reader two truths of major importance: first, that God's method in inspiring the Bible was by speaking through an Inner Voice heard in the souls of saints or prophets in their "high moments," leaving a deep conviction that it was the voice of God speaking. This was the unshakable conviction of all the saints and prophets and Bible writers whose "inspired" utterances have come down to us. Through the ages those who spoke with convincing authority were singularly sure that the message spoken by the Inner Voice was the very voice of the Holy Spirit. They felt as Joan of Arc, who said, "I must be true to the voices that speak to me." "True," though she was to die for the conviction!
Second, that the great body of truth constituting the Credo of Christians came down to us by a long, slow process as Bible writer, or prophet, or saint, each in some supreme high moment, received a certain new truth with the firm conviction that it was the very word of God, this to be added to by the like inspired words handed down from others in their high moments.
Therefore we may rightly count the bearers of these divine messages the greatest benefactors of the race, passing down to us with the force of divine authority the great body of truth by which the saints in all ages have been ready to live or to die. Chief among such benefactors are those "men of genius," some of whom are named in this chapter. What they declared they knew in their high moments was the very voice of God; this it was that shaped the thinking and the living of the people of their own generation, and that blazed the trail that other lofty souls have followed even to our day.
SOW THE LETTER, REAP THE WHIRLWIND
Chapter I showed that the literalistic interpretation of the Bible is needless: the Bible contents are self-authenticating, needing no theory of inspiration. Chapter VI pointed out that the claim for verbal inspiration and inerrancy is hazardous: the claim for miraculous inspiration brings the Bible, along with the other Sacred Books, under suspicion. The present chapter warns against literalism by showing that literalism has brought a disastrous train of evils in history, thus seeming to justify the heading of this chapter: "Sow the letter; reap the whirlwind."
Literalism in the Early and Medieval Church
The great Church Fathers of the fourth century struck the keynote for strict literalism, Ambrose saying, "Moses opened his mouth and poured forth what God said to him." Augustine and the Fathers in general set the pace for letting the words of Scripture mean exactly what they said.
C. H. Dodd in The Bible Today shows that the Reformers, notably Luther and Calvin, confirmed and even accentuated the literalism of the Fathers. Over against the Roman Catholic claim for an "infallible church" they set the Protestant claim for an "infallible Bible," interpreted in utter literalness. Dodd points out that up to that time Bible interpreters had followed an accepted "schema"; namely, that all Old Testament types and prophecies looked forward to fulfillment in Christ, who thus became the great interpretative principle both for the Bible and for history. This scheme became the unconscious frame of reference for all Bible interpretation, even for Luther and Calvin.
But now in their zeal to free the people completely from the authority of Pope and Church, the Reformers disregarded even the accepted "schema," urging the people, "Listen to only one thing, 'the plain words of Scripture'." Even the restraint of the "schema" was gone. Everyone became his own interpreter, and he found in every detached passage what he sought, warped often by his own bias. And Judges and Song of Songs were believed to be as much inspired as Isaiah and Matthew! For wasn't it all fully inspired? The result of such new liberty was a remarkable burst of individual spontaneity and freedom, but also of "chaotic individualism," with unbounded dogmatism and intolerance, leading to the endless spawning of sects and cults, even down to the present day. Notably Daniel and Revelation, in the words of Dodd, "became the licensed playground of every crank" (The Bible Today, pp. 19-23).
On this hard and fast theory that all the Bible was equally inspired and must be interpreted literally, a vast system of doctrines was built up by the Fathers, reaffirmed by the Reformers, vehemently defended by Bible texts, and made a test of orthodoxy-persecution and torture being often applied to compel belief and conformity. Then often, one after another, once-cherished doctrines would be found untenable, to be abandoned, to the shame and disgrace of the church that had been so cocksure.
The humiliating story is well known to church historians, but as a caution to sticklers for literalism some high points in the story are given in this chapter. For confirmation the reader is referred to the well-known work by Andrew D. White, Warfare of Science with Theology, and Draper's Warfare Between Religion and Science.
Theory of the Earth as Flat and Stationary
It should never be forgotten that the theory of the earth as flat and stationary was long the center of a bitter fight by churchmen based on Bible statements. Plato and Aristotle believed the earth was probably round, but the Church Fathers declared Bible passages gave the lie to this ideas. In the sixth century A.D. the Egyptian monk Cosmas worked out from Bible descriptions of the Jewish Tabernacle and numerous other passages a complete idea of the structure of the world. It was like a great house, a parallelogram in shape, resting on solid foundations, surrounded by walls. It was the exact center of the universe. Over it was a solid dome, the "firmament" of Genesis 1:6, holding back a sea that was above it. Set in it were "the windows of heaven" (Gen. 7:11), which angels opened to let the water above pour through as rain. The sun, the moon, and the stars were set in the dome, and angels carried them around once a day to give light to the earth. Heaven was in the loft of the great house and hell in the cellar. Dante and master artists made it all a vivid picture. Cosmas warned that God would condemn at the last day all who did not accept this view of the world. This view of the world, with some variations, the Church made a test of orthodoxy for a thousand years, punishing those denying it.
During the long period astronomers one after another challenged the theory, always with fear and trembling. At last Copernicus, and Galileo with his telescope, began to win converts to the view that the earth was round and moved. Copernicus did not care to publish his book in proof of the new view till he was on his deathbed. Galileo begged in vain for the hostile churchmen to look through his telescope for proof that the planets and some of their satellites were actually moving. Copernicus escaped his persecutors by his death in 1543. Seventy years later Galileo printed a book at the risk of his life asserting the Copernican theory of moving worlds was a fact proved by the telescope. His book was seized, and he was forbidden to teach the theory, and professors everywhere were required to take an oath not to teach the heresy, and priests were required to preach against it.
Protestants were equally intolerant of the new theory. Luther called Copernicus a fool who "would reverse the whole science of astronomy." Calvin went on vehemently quoting such Scriptures as Psalms 93: 1, "The world is established, that it cannot be moved," as certain proof that Galileo and Copernicus were wrong. It was indeed damnable that anyone would put "the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit." Theologians declared such a theory of the world "vitiated the whole Christian plan of salvation."
Already the Inquisition had begun to crush out the "heresy." The noble scholar and scientist Girdano Bruno, for writing books and declaring there were many worlds in motion, was tracked from country to country, seized and imprisoned in Venice for six years, then taken to Rome, tortured in prison two years more, and then burned alive in 1600. Galileo, after long suffering in prison, broken in health and spirit, in order to save his life, was forced in 1616 at the age of 70 to declare on his knees that he "abjured, cursed, and detested" the theory of the movement of the earth. Condemned and disgraced, he was persecuted the rest of his life, and his writings put under the ban, and he was forbidden to speak of his theory to the priests for the rest of his life. He was exiled from his family. When he died, his request was denied that he be buried in the family tomb. No inscription was allowed on his tomb for 40 years. Admirers 100 years later erected a monument to the famous astronomer, but over the protest of the Inquisition. Not till 1811 did the Pope allow the Copernican theory to be taught openly. Not till 1824 did he remove from the Index books teaching the Copernican theory of astronomy. In charity we can at best drop a tear of pity for such blind devotion to the letter of Scripture.
The Theory of Antipodes
A parallel battle waged by churchmen was to prove from Scripture that people could not live on the other side of the earth. Belief in antipodes was dangerous and damnable. The mighty Augustine and the Fathers in general threw themselves against the "heresy." They quoted Psalm 19: 4, "Their line is gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world." How could a line, or how could the sound of words go to the other side of the world! To believe in antipodes was to "Give the lie to David and the Holy Spirit"! The argument grew so bitter by the eighth century that Pope Zachary was asked for his ruling. He quoted Scripture and declared the belief was "perverse and iniquitous." This "infallible" ruling settled the matter for centuries, though here and there a timid voice spoke out. In 1327 the astronomer Cecco d'Ascoli was driven from his professorship and burned alive at Florence for declaring his belief in the antipodes and for other heresies.
Then in 1519 Magellan sailed round the earth and his sailors testified they actually had seen the antipodes! Then other explorers and missionaries so testified. Yet for 200 years some went on quoting Scripture against the eye-witnesses. How could they be right in the face of "the plain words of Scripture"!
Creation: Instantaneous vs. a Six-Day Creation
From the days of the Fathers even to Darwin it was held that the universe and man were created perfect. But was it in a moment, or in six days-or both? That was debatable. For the first chapter of Genesis says creation was at the word of God in a moment. Chapter two says it was in six days. The early Fathers tried hard to make both true. Their most plausible conclusion was that the substance of the universe was created in a moment and six days were given to arranging and adorning it. It was generally held that all animals and man were made perfect and full-grown, and named by Adam, and that no new species ever appeared later. All creatures were at first peaceful and harmless, none preying on others. And there was no death. Serpents stood upright and walked and talked-as in the story of Eve and the serpent. There were no thorns, no thistles. The earth was smooth and beautiful, a paradise for men. No volcano blazed, no earthquake shook the earth.
Then came sin, and with it, death; animals began to prey on one another; volcanoes blazed, earthquakes rent the earth, the earth's strata were twisted and broken. All this became "the sacred deposit of faith," a dogma to be believed, and men were warned that God would judge those that disputed it. Adam had named all the animals, and their number was so small that some of all kinds found room in Noah's ark. All this was the orthodox view for a thousand years, from Augustine to the Reformation. Scripture was quoted to prove it all.
By 1650 scientists began timidly to challenge these views. Travelers round the world brought reports of thousands of new species of animals. The great naturalist Linnaeus in 1750 published his book Systema Naturae, enumerating 4,000 species of animals. How could Adam have named so many, or Noah have got them all into the ark! And how could hundreds of them find their way from the ark to the distant continents and islands round the world! Such positive new knowledge raised grave difficulties regarding the Genesis story. "The wiser theologians waited"; the less wise raved against "science falsely so-called," and in alarm shouted, "Down with those who would make the Bible a lie"! But faith in the Genesis story taken literally was giving way to disturbing doubt.
Enters Evolution Like an Earthquake
It grew ever clearer that some escape from the older view had to be found, especially as animal species ran into many thousands. A succession of scientists paved the way toward an explosion that was to shake the world of both science and religion like an earthquake. The explosion came July 1, 1858, when before the Linnaean Society in London Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace read two papers frankly setting forth the principle of evolution by natural selection. The explosion culminated the next year, 1859, when Darwin published The Origin of Species, giving the results of 30 years of patient investigation in the phenomena of Nature. Soon many leading scientists declared the proofs were overwhelming in support of the main contention of evolution: namely, Nature for ages had been evolving from lower to ever-higher forms of life.
The explosion shook the world. Theologians in the main rose in bitter attack on Darwin and his theory. They declared in alarm that it "dethroned God," "made Genesis a lie," and "the ape our Adam."
Never before had devout churchmen been so shocked and alarmed. If evolution were true, then all they had believed about God and the Bible was gone! And it could not be blinked that scientists in general were turning from the Genesis view of instantaneous creation to the view of creation as culminating in a long process of evolution. And most unfortunately and unwisely it was churchmen who posed the issue: evolution or the Bible; evolution or Christianity! Dean Burgon preached at Oxford that, if one gave up the literal Genesis theory of creation, then the "entire scheme of man's salvation collapsed"!
But some wiser theologians soon began to warn against this attitude of "either, or." They warned, "What if, after all, the evolution theory should prove true!" "Remember Copernicus and Galileo! The bitter fight to prove from the Bible that the earth wasn't round and didn't move!" Wise men avoided making an issue of it. President James McCosh of Princeton saw the danger and took a firm stand against permitting his eminent associates on the faculty, like Dr. Hodge, to use the chapel services to draw the line between evolution and Christianity. He saw it was a sure way to turn many students away from Christianity and the Bible. Some wiser churchmen even went further and took a constructive attitude.
Temple, Bishop of London, said it seemed more majestic and fitting for God in one creative act to provide for animals to produce new species than for him to produce them by ever new acts of creation. In 1893 Professor Henry Drummond, revered as Christian and scientist, in his noted Chautauqua Lectures in this country, even glorified evolution as a nobler, diviner mode of creation than that of making all the animal species complete and perfect at a word. Slowly the atmosphere cleared, fears subsided, and the masses of men settled down to the conviction that the only vital thing for religion was that the great God actually created, not how he created.
Old Bible Chronology Discarded
The Church Fathers put vast effort into working out the date of creation and the beginning of human life on the earth. The date was fixed mainly by calculating the length of the "generations" named in the Bible genealogical tables and by inference from the six days of creation, each day interpreted by the saying in the 90th Psalm, to the effect that "a day with the Lord is as a thousand years": six days of creation, therefore six thousand years from creation to Christ. Numerous later calculations at last reduced this period to about 4,000 years. By exact and infinite calculations from Bible passages the eminent Cambridge scholar, Dr. John Lightfoot, fixed the date exactly: creation was October 25, 4004 B.C., at 9 A.M.! But finally the date fixed by Archbishop Usher about 1650 was agreed on: creation was 4,000 B.C. Soon this date was accepted as inspired, and was printed in all Bibles. To doubt it was heresy!
But in time archaeologists and geologists in their elaborate study of monuments and inscriptions and fossils in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia became certain that long before the date set for creation, flourishing civilizations existed in those countries, with cities of hewn stone. Sculptures showed that before the date set for creation already a variety of races existed with their racial features well developed, an evolution that itself would have required thousands of years. Meanwhile excavations in many parts of the world showed human bones and implements and ash heaps alongside the homes of animals that had long before perished from the earth. In 1883 the greatest geologist of his day, Sir Charles Lyell, who had opposed the evolution theory, published an epoch-making book, The Antiquities of Man, showing unmistakably that man had been on the earth tens of thousands of years before the date fixed for creation, and he declared that he was forced to accept reluctantly the main theory of evolution. With his powerful influence added in support of evolution and the vast age of man on the earth, the use of Bible texts against evolution and the age-old life of man on the earth began to fade away.
Evil Results of Literalism Numberless
Several other evil results of literalism can be barely mentioned. Churchmen for centuries quoted Bible texts to prove that comets, meteors and eclipses were "signs and wonders" God hung in the heavens to warn sinners to repentance. And then astronomers began to tell us to the day when a long-absent comet would fly into view, and to the minute when an eclipse would begin!
Bible texts were quoted vehemently to prove that vaccination against smallpox and other diseases was "a diabolical operation"-until Jenner, Pasteur and others showed positively that God had offered this means to men for saving the lives of millions of men and animals from death.
Bible texts were quoted to justify killing "infidels" in the Crusades, and "heretics" on St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572, of which Draper writes, "For perfidy and atrocity it has no equal in the annals of the world." Yet even more tragic, if possible, is that long chapter of human blindness and cruelty, when texts were quoted to justify the torture of the insane, and the torture and murder of thousands of demented persons as witches. For hadn't the Bible ordered it? "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Ex. 22: 18).
Alas for the cruelty and the crimes based on texts of Scripture!
Enters the New Biblicism
It was a matter of course that the intellectual cataclysm that swept the old world-view into the discard would disturb profoundly the foundations of biblical faith. And for some decades indeed after the old world-view had run its course, there seemed to be real danger that the Bible would never regain its lost prestige. Long quoted vehemently to bolster a child's view of a flat and stationary earth, the Bible became suspect. Evidently it was no authority in the field of science. Many critics of undoubted scholarship began a critical examination of both the words and the contents of the Bible.
And this brought another crisis for the Christian faith comparable to that which resulted from discarding the old astronomy. These two major impacts coming simultaneously made the whole Christian structure tremble. Many noble Christians lost their way and their faith. The slogan had been "The Book, the whole Book, and nothing but the Book." And the extravagant claim had been that it was inspired in every word and letter, and was authority on every subject including science, and that claim had been seen to go by the board. Richard Baxter's warning had well-nigh justified itself: "The devil's last method is to undo by overdoing." Truly literalists had sown the letter and had reaped the whirlwind!
Inevitably many scholars became ultra-critical. A good summary of the new situation is given by Edwin Lewis in The Biblical Faith and Christian Freedom, chapter on "The Emancipation of the Word." Devastating criticism of both the Old and the New Testaments poured from the press. In 1835 Strauss shocked the Christian world with his "first" Life of Jesus. Great prestige was added to it later by George Eliot's translating it into English. Renan's Life of Jesus fascinated a wide community of readers, though frequently discussion of the great theme became almost flippant. Sir J. Richard Seeley in his Ecce Homo was so penetrating and so reverent in his character sketches of Jesus as to fascinate the extremely conservative Spurgeon, even while he startled the great preacher by bringing Jesus down to earth as "a real person."
Meanwhile critical study of the Old Testament was bringing a revolutionary change of attitude to it. By the latter fourth of the nineteenth century scholarship was coming rather generally to the view that the Pentateuch had a plurality of authors, who doubtless used faithfully and honestly the materials at their disposal, yet wove in with historical facts much of legend and folklore. Moreover it appeared certain that the Old Testament books were not written once for all, but were subsequently rewritten once or more, with inclusion then of new material that had come to hand.
Scholars of the highest rank veering toward such revolutionary ideas with regard to either the Old or the New Testament brought down on their heads wrath from the orthodox comparable to that called down from the orthodox theologians on the heads of Copernicus and Galileo. The eminent Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol, for his book on the Epistles of Paul and for The Interpretation of Scripture, was forbidden to preach in the University pulpit, and barely escaped expulsion as professor of Greek. On both sides of the Atlantic eminent scholars and theologians were cited to answer charges of heresy and were subjected to deep humiliation.
The famous Scottish minister W. Robertson Smith, a star of the first magnitude as scholar and preacher, was on trial two years for the new view expressed in his Prophets in Israel and Old Testament in the Jewish Church, a vote by the General Assembly in 1881 resulting in his expulsion from his professorship. After the vote and before the sentence was pronounced, the famous scholar A. B. Bruce made a memorable speech saying solemnly, "I never expected to live to see such a spectacle as this, and I feel the deepest sorrow and shame." But he declared he was sure the church would repent of the great wrong done to "its ablest servant and devoted son."
The prediction was completely fulfilled. Smith was succeeded as teacher by young George Adam Smith, who later was to become president of the same university of Aberdeen, which had deposed his famous name-sake. This young man came to be recognized as one of the world's leading Old Testament scholars. By a strange irony of events he taught almost the identical views of his famous predecessor. Time and thought in the religious world were moving forward parallel with the new current of thought in the scientific world.
The present century has seen the struggle of the literalists and liberals develop into the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy, involving the best scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic, in both the Protestant and the Roman churches. Some of the greatest minds of the church have grappled openly with some of the greatest problems of both the Old and the New Testaments, even to the question of the "historical Jesus." In 1906 a brilliant young scholar wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus. It was a profound study and profoundly disturbing. During the nineteenth century many critical scholars had dissected the Jesus of the Gospels and the Epistles, and left a confused portrait of what manner of person he was. This young scholar set out to reexamine the entire field and to present a credible portrait of "the historical Jesus."
His conclusion was that we cannot be sure we know many of the exact words of Jesus, nor precisely what kind of person he was. A group of men made new by their contact with him had doubtless done their best to repeat the great sayings of Jesus, and to describe the kind of person he was. But the story as they told it was mostly fictional!
That brilliant young scholar was the world-famous Albert Schweitzer. At 30 years of age he gave up fame and fortune to become the simple, human Christlike missionary, pouring out his life for the black people in an African jungle. None can doubt that he is genuinely Christian, truly in love with Christ. Many scholars today believe his disturbing book has actually resulted in making Jesus more truly the center and power of the Gospels and of the New Testament. But not precisely in the manner we should have expected. He is there rather as the unexpected, the inescapable, the cataclysmic. As W. Edwin Lewis puts it, "The very things which the critics had been trying to get rid of as 'unhistorical' were precisely what had created the 'history'" (The Biblical Faith, etc., p. 42). Similarly also we are to look for the Kingdom of God in the Gospels to come, not in a natural, explainable manner, but mysteriously, unpredictably, perhaps by a cataclysm. It is sufficient that Jesus and the Kingdom are both there, the soul and the center of the Gospels.
Result, a New Biblicism
The sole point of this chapter is to make obvious that we can no longer equate the letter of Scripture with the Word of God which the devout soul feels beneath the words. A former generation sowed the letter of Scripture and reaped the whirlwind. Slavish reliance on the letter, with the quoting of proof-texts, obviously went into the discard along with the old world-view, which it tried to defend with disastrous results. That was the old Biblicism, and in its place we have the new Biblicism, which probes beneath the words of Scripture and discovers at every point in the Old and the New Testaments the same living, life-giving stream of divine revelation. That stream was felt running full-tide through the early Church for a generation before a word of the New Testament was written. It cannot now be made dependent on the exact words of Jesus or Paul-not so long as Jesus himself is a felt experience and greater than the words.
AND ULTIMATES IN RELIGION
PROGRESSIVE REVELATION AND OLD TESTAMENT MIRACLES
In the remaining chapters we shall inquire what we may know of those ultimates toward which God's progressive revelation has turned our eyes and kindled our hopes:
Alike in the Hebrew and the Christian religions the miraculous frankly plays a large part. All religion indeed presupposes the divine irruption into human affairs in a manner transcending the natural.
But as to the miraculous, a very marked change is apparent in our time as compared with early Bible times. To the ancient Hebrews Nature was "the garment of the living God." Sir J. Arthur Thompson said the Hebrew seers felt "a naive enjoyment of the world, a sheer delight in it as a revelation of the glory of God never equaled since their day" (Science and Religion, p. 70). To the Hebrews "the heavens declared the glory of God" (Ps. 19: 1); to them God "walked upon the wings of the wind" (Ps. 104: 3), and uttered his voice in the thunder. To them the working of wonders was but God's normal way of acting in the world he had made. Why, indeed, should he not "break through" whenever and however he pleased, even to the parting of a sea or to the destroying of an army in a moment! Accordingly, the Old Testament is loaded with miracles wrought by God and his servants.
Problem of Old Testament Miracles
Those who would teach the Bible to the present generation must face frankly the fact that miracles present a major problem in Bible interpretation. Indeed, miracles are a major stumbling-block to a generation trained to expect uniformity in Nature. For numerous Bible miracles, especially in the Old Testament, obviously violate the laws of Nature.
As keen an observer as the late Dr. Rufus M. Jones, in his posthumous book, A Call to What is Vital, says the book was written on the appeal of a leading man of his communion who urged him "to write one more book" aimed at helping the multitude of "eager truth-seekers" who "have stopped going to church because what they hear is at sharp variance with what they know." And miracles were a chief problem. In his book Dr. Jones frankly faces the fact that in his lifetime a remarkable change had come in "the climate of thought" regarding the miraculous. In his youth Paley's Evidences of Revealed Religion was a popular college textbook. It based the truth of religion largely upon Bible miracles. And Jones warns, "Just the opposite is the case today. Miracles for the modern scientifically trained person form a heavy and difficult burden to carry." For countless thousands of sincere religious people stumble at miracles.
Tests for the Credibility of Miracles
It is impossible within the limits of this chapter to do significantly more than to lay down certain broad principles about the whole subject of Bible miracles. We begin with a caution to parent or teacher: some miracles obviously will appear unbelievable on ethical grounds, if on no other, and the frankest criticism should be welcomed (Recall the wise mother and the story of the bears, p. 23). Fairly treated, the Bible will take care of itself, and criticism of the unethical in miracles is to be encouraged, and met in utter frankness.
We lay down three tests for the credibility of miracles:
Miracles Today, Natural Events Tomorrow
This question of an "unknown law" poses another intriguing question: May not an occurrence that seems a miracle today turn out tomorrow to be only a natural event within law? Thus, actually many events having all the ear-marks of miracles yesterday are today seen to be orderly events conforming to recognized law in the physical world.
In 1844 Professor Morse declared he could send messages many miles over a wire. He had pleaded with Congress to make a small appropriation to try it out. The world mocked and said it was a fool idea. It would be an impossible miracle. But the "miracle" actually happened! From Washington to Baltimore over a wire went the message, "What has God wrought!" Verily, from the earlier point of view it was a miracle.
In 1877 a star reporter put on the front page of the New York Herald a preposterous story. It said that over at Edison's laboratory at Menlo Park Edison had strung many electric lights on wires. The managing editor rushed in demanding, "How did that stuff get in! It will make the Herald a laughing-stock! Don't you know that's against the laws of Nature?" It was clearly an impossible miracle! He wanted to stop the presses and delete the story. But the story stirred the nation. The railroads ran special trains, and 3,000 people went to see the miracle at Menlo Park. And there they gazed in wonder at many flashing electric lights on wires stretched between leafless trees! (Bryan, Edison, the Man and His Work, pp. 128-130)
Pasteur's famous experiment, June 2, 1881 (p. 24-25), marked an epoch in world history. No more were demons to be feared as a cause of disease. It had been definitely proved that the "demons" were microscopic animals in the human system. It meant that one after another of the great "scourges of God" was to be banished and countless millions of animal and human lives saved. It was one of the great "miracles" of all time.
In 1945 a wave of wonder and horror swept to every corner of the globe. A "miracle" had occurred that filled men's hearts with an awful fear and dread. An atomic bomb had exploded over Hiroshima, snuffing out in a moment over 67,000 lives and leaving a city a mass of dust and rubble. According to one authority, it had taken 600 years to double the explosive power of gunpowder, but here all at once the power of gunpowder had been multiplied 17,000,000 times! It was a "miracle" to make all the human race shudder! Man had said the atom was the smallest particle of matter, far too small for even the microscope to see. And it was certain it could not be "split," and, even if split, that no power could be in it to be released. But, miracle of miracles, the atom had been split, and in it was a power to be released able to blow up the planet, if man were so foolish or so wicked!
No Law Violated
In none of the cases cited was there any miracle in the sense of a divine intervention, or a suspension or breach of natural law. God had but revealed to men new application of the laws of nature, to use for good or ill. Primitive man had stood awe-struck, afraid and helpless before the mysteries of life and death, not even aware of law at work in the wonders before him. But now science has probed into the Unseen, and many of the mysteries that seemed miracles yesterday are now seen to be natural events explainable in terms of laws hitherto undreamed of. Accordingly, the miraculous has vanished from a multitude of events that once were explainable only as miracles, which to the primitive mind meant events wrought by the direct intervention of God.
Surely, it should be hailed as a cause for gratitude wherever a Bible "miracle" can be explained in terms of natural law, unknown to the Bible writer, but now clearly understood. It relieves the Bible of a burden, and often relieves God of the onus of doing an unethical or cruel act. Impressive examples are the oft-recurring Bible expressions, "God sent"-a plague, a pestilence . . . "and killed"; "God smote . . . and they died." We have learned to see the nexus of natural cause and effect; "they of old time" saw only God's direct act.
Reign of Law Compatible with Miracles
A caution is important at this point: the reign of law still leaves room for miracles. Since Newton established the law of universal gravitation (ca. 1687), for 200 years science held that law, unvarying and absolute, reigned throughout the physical universe. But with the beginning of the present century there came a remarkable change in scientific opinion, due to epoch-making discoveries in science (Einstein's Relativity and Planck's Quantum Theory). Since then science has itself disputed the theory of a "closed universe" with no place for miracle-nor prayer. No less a scientist than Sir James Jeans says: "Crevices have begun to appear in what used to be considered the impregnable closed cycle of physical science" (Background of Science, p. 280). And Charles R. Raven writes in Science, Religion, and the Future: "It is a mysterious universe, and dogmatism is indecent" (p. 66). Today with commendable humility leading scientists are ready to concede that, for all science knows to the contrary, God has left in the once "closed universe" "crevices" with room for miracle and prayer!
Moreover, around the beginning of the century scientists discovered beyond doubt that "solid" matter is not solid, but consists of infinitely small pellets of energy, which they call protons and electrons, whirling at inconceivable speed round a central nucleus, and that these are the "bricks" out of which the universe is built! This is indeed a change as revolutionary as that of giving up the "old-world" view for the "new-world" view, so that in the words of Jeans, "the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine." In the last analysis this means that things are possible now that a little while ago were considered impossible, even in the opinion of the greatest scientists. "Dogmatism is indecent" even with regard to miracles and prayer!
In a word, many scientists are ready to concede that miracles are possible; many Christians are sure they have experienced them. Also, that often there seems to be a mysterious nexus of faith-prayer-miracle, a nexus that becomes intriguing as we study the miracles of the New Testament.
PROGRESSIVE REVELATION AND NEW TESTAMENT MIRACLES
Immediately on entering the New Testament from the Old, we find ourselves in a changed atmosphere as regards the miraculous. For we are at once brought face to face with the Miracle of miracles, the Incarnation, God incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, who becomes the animating spirit of all the New Testament. Given such a Person, why should we not reasonably expect a new order of events? And actually the New Testament is the record of events unique in the history of the race. The Lord of Life and of Nature has come, and is himself the unique Miracle of history. Why need anyone wonder if he is seen manipulating the laws of nature in a manner never known before? Why not a new and nobler type of miracle than the world had known before?
Remembering the inviolability of law as brought out in the previous chapter, we may safely assume that Jesus would respect Nature's laws. For he is represented as the instrument of the Creator in making the world (John 1:3; Heb. 1:2); would he not respect its laws? He refused to take liberty with the law of gravity by casting himself form the pinnacle of the temple. He absolutely refused to save his life by recourse to power not available to others. "He learned obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). Such a person must limit himself to such powers as were in the reach of the common sons of men. If he worked miracles, it must not be by a power denied to others.
The Miracles of Jesus
To begin with, we are to note something new and unique in the attitude of Jesus to the miraculous. He revolts against the popular concept of miracles. To the popular mind they were "signs and wonders," prodigies and wonderworks to attract attention to the mighty power of God. Jesus utterly refused to cater to the demand of the vulgar crowd that he show them "signs and wonders," as if he were a magician or wonder-worker. He utterly refused to "show what he could do." He rebuked and seemed grieved by the craze for wonderworks. "An evil and adulterous generation seek after a sign; I refuse to yield to the clamor; wait and see the sign of Jonah-the resurrection!" (Mt. 12:39; 16:4). The clamor for "signs" grieved him. "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe" (John 4:48). For him to be considered a magician or wonder-worker would be to obscure his saving mission. He saw this as a grave danger, and even sternly set himself against it. After doing a signal deed of mercy he repeatedly enjoined silence about it (Mark 1:44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36). (See also Fosdick, The Man from Nazareth, pp. 55-62).
Moreover, Jesus accepted only the divine quality of his miracles as a credential of his divine mission-not their histrionic appeal as "mighty works." In his message replying to John's inquiry in prison whether he were the Christ, he directed John's attention, not to his wonderworks as such, but to the Godlike quality of his acts of love and mercy (Mt. 11:5).
Windows into the Unseen Universe
In his book The Faith that Rebels D. D. Cairns makes a striking approach to the miracles of Jesus. He proposes to use each miracle "to interrogate the universe," regarding each miracle as a window through which to see into the nature of the universe, and the nature and purpose of God:
Credibility of New Testament Miracles
We noted in the previous chapter the remark of Rufus Jones that in his lifetime there had come a disturbing change in the "climate of thought" with regard especially to Old Testament miracles. It seems fair to say that within the past few decades there has come a definite favorable change in the "climate of thought" with regard to the New Testament miracles. For since the turn of the century there has come a strong, steady reaction away from the rationalism of Strauss, Renan and others who regarded the miracles of Jesus as largely mythical. This has been true especially as regards the healing miracles of Jesus. Strangely enough, this favorable change has been brought about largely by science, especially the new sciences of psychology and psychiatry.
For the miracles of Jesus were very largely in the field of bodily and mental healing. And the eminent success of the healing art in recent decades has been due largely to a clear recognition of the inseparable connection of body and mind. Seward Hiltner in Religion and Health expresses the consensus of present medical opinion when he says that to ask whether an illness is physical or psychic is "the wrong question." The right question is: "To what extent is it physical and to what extent psychic? . . . There is no such thing as a purely psychic illness or a purely physical one." (p. 66).
Miracles of Physical Healing
We give several examples of the miracles of Jesus which are less a burden to Christian faith than they were even a few decades ago. First in the realm of physical healing. Medical lore today is loaded with the case-histories of persons who were physical wrecks but who could not be helped by medication nor any form of physical treatment. And then a psychiatrist probed into the patient's past and brought to light some inner conflict set up by some shock, or fright, or maybe some sin committed long ago, which had lingered in the subconscious, to prey on the mind and wreck the health. Often, simply to explain the cause and bring it to the surface brings a cure that seems miraculous. Nothing in medical literature today is more familiar than such healing of the body through the mind. Jesus grasped this great truth ahead of his time and evidently applied it in his miraculous cures.
Sometimes he saw that sin and a guilt feeling had wrecked the body, as perhaps in case of the paralytic, and he began by dealing with the root cause, and said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee" (Mt. 9:2). By the same method doctor or minister today often effects "miraculous" cures. Dr. J. S. Bonnell tells of the woman of 55, unstrung, her heart badly affected, driven almost to suicide, fearful of losing her mind. He probed and got her confession. For 35 years she had hidden the fact that she had secretly given birth to an illegitimate baby, and lived all the years in fear that her sister would come to know about it. Guilt and fear had wrecked her life. The minister read to her the story of Mary weeping tears on the feet of Jesus and of his saying, "Go in peace" (Luke 7:36ff). She said, "For 35 years I've been in torment; I'd give the world for a few hours of peace." On her knees she accepted the assurance of forgiveness, and with it the tension was gone, and soon she was a normal, radiant, active Christian (Pastoral Psychiatry, p. 85). It but echoed the method of Jesus.
Miracles of Mental Healing
Cases of modern mental healing that seem miraculous enable us somewhat to understand such miracles as Jesus' healing of the Gadarene demoniac. Modern science gives us a clue without taking away the wonder of his miracles. Here is a recent one known to this writer. Two prominent psychiatrists from a great medical institution went to a mental hospital looking for a patient on whom to try out a new method of administering an electric shock. They were shown a patient considered hopeless from a mental breakdown, unless some extraordinary treatment could be applied. They tried it out on this patient. He was an aged minister, an honor graduate of a prominent college, who had held leading city pastorates in several cities. The test seemed eminently successful.
Shortly afterward this patient was invited to tell his experience before a group of physicians in the city. First they had him to listen to a recording of his incoherent talk before the shock was administered. Then with his usual eloquence he told of his return to sanity. He said, "No, I have no memory of the visit of the doctors nor of their giving me the shock, nor of anything in the recent past. My first memory is of my seeming to emerge out of an experience of horrible suffering. Then in a flash my mind seemed to click, and I was myself again."
He at once went about his normal duties as a minister, and has talked easily to his friends about the remarkable experience. Out of what seemed a condition of hopeless insanity he suddenly found himself. It reminds us of the story of the Gadarene as told by Luke the physician; the disciples looked on the healed man in wonder, "sitting clothed and in his right mind, at the feet of Jesus" (Luke 8:35).
Making the Dumb Speak
Over and over Jesus made the dumb to speak and the deaf to hear. By what miraculous power we cannot know, but we find clues in modern medicine. A famous North Carolina psychologist known to this writer told a few years ago in one of his books of a boy of ten in a western city who had never spoken. A psychiatrist probed into his past and learned that as a baby his father began to punish him severely for trifles like disturbing his sleep by crying. Because of fear he never tried to talk. The doctor ordered his father not to see the boy for some months; freed from fear of his father, he slowly gained his speech, and was able to enter school (Groves, Wholesome Childhood, p. 122).
All Manner of Disease
Matthew records that Jesus went about all the cities and villages healing "all manner of disease and all manner of sickness" (Mt. 9:35). It pictures a Physician with a fathomless heart to feel and a miraculous power to heal all who suffered. Rightly we worship before such a human-divine Healer, and rejoice when modern science furnishes the faintest clue to his fathomless knowledge and power to heal.
Here and there today a clue comes to light touching those more occult, difficult cases spoken of in the Gospels as the casting out of demons. Dr. Leslie Weatherhead gives us a remarkable case out of his experience. In a town out of London for an address, a few minutes before he went on the platform a girl of 26 came with an appeal for help. She said, "From six years of age I've suffered from hideous nightmares, sleep-walking, screaming in the night and terrifying my people. I dare not sleep alone. Doctors can't help me." It made life unbearable, and had driven her near to suicide.
She said, "In my sleep I imagine myself in a dark room, the door closed, a dreadful man approaching, and often I scream out in terror." Asked if she could remember any fright in childhood, she thought a moment, and then said with emotion, "Oh, yes; I hadn't thought of it for years. At six or seven I had a fright from a horrible man!" A psychologist as well as minister, he was sure he had the clue. In the few minutes before his address, he explained to her that evidently her 20 years of agony stemmed from the horrible sex fright as a child. Hidden away in the subconscious, it rose to the surface in her sleep to torture her like a veritable legion of demons. Having the explanation and the clue for dealing with her trouble, she began a remarkable recovery. A few minutes and three letters from the minister-psychologist sufficed, and she wrote him later of her complete recovery (Weatherhead, Psychology and Life, pp. 103-107).
The English writer Harold Begbie, author of Twice Born Men, told of going as an unfriendly critic to report one of Frank Buchman's parlor meetings. There he met a British air pilot, whose story converted him into a friendly critic and led him to write More Twice Born Men. The officer said, "My job was to train boys in World War I to fly fighter planes. I trained them poorly, and then with horror saw many of them shot down. To know that my neglect killed them has almost crazed me!" The man's eyes usually seemed moist with secret tears.
He went on, "Last night till 2 o'clock I poured out my bottled-up agony to Frank Buchman, and then on my knees with him relief came. But Frank said that in order to remain safe I must lose myself in some great task. I know what it is. In the war I corrupted a lad. I'm going to do what Frank says I must. That boy is in America; I'll cross the ocean, find him, adopt him, bring him to England, and never leave him till his soul is right." He was thrilled with the joy of the great task before him. He would be saved by devotion to a great cause.
Both these incidents illustrate the marvelous insight of Jesus, and also the heart of his gospel, "Save your life by losing it." The famous psychologist Jung declared that about a third of his patients from round the world were sick as a result of the sheer emptiness and uselessness of their lives. Apparently, Jesus was the greatest of the psychologists, and restored twisted, wrecked personalities largely by his regal challenge to break with the dead past and to throw themselves in an abandon into the great cause which he headed, denying self, taking up the cross, and losing life in a cause great enough to challenge all their latent powers into action.
That Jesus made it a large part of his mission to "heal all manner of diseases" and to restore wrecked personalities should itself convict us of our neglect of a Christlike healing ministry. But it is Jesus' mysterious and miraculous power as a Healer that should most impress us. Whence came such knowledge and power to this plain untaught Galilean peasant! It is one of the marvels of history that he so clearly grasped and applied the laws governing cause and cure of disease as to stand supreme and alone among all the world's physicians, past and present, despite the centuries of medical progress!
Nature Miracles of Jesus
If scientific medicine furnishes us some clues to the healing miracles of Jesus, we are yet almost wholly in the dark as to such nature miracles as made him master of wind and wave and even death. It is too early to dismiss them as myths. Even science has become modest in speaking of what may or may not be in fields beyond its ken. As Canon Raven put it, "It is a mysterious universe, and dogmatism is indecent." God's revelation is not complete. We may confidently expect much light yet to break on such mysteries as some of the miracles of Jesus. Sir J. Arthur Thompson says, "We are not sure we know more than a few of the real laws of Nature." It seems clear that Jesus understood some that remain unknown to us. Neither science nor theology has yet spoken its last word in the field of Nature's laws.
A Credo for Miracles
Finally, what may one dare to believe about miracles? Dr. Charles E. Jefferson told of his early struggle to believe certain miracles. He asked Phillips Brooks, "Must I believe in miracles?" Brooks replied simply, "You may." Jefferson said, "The reply was like magic to me." It meant that to doubt certain miracles need not be a vital matter (Things Fundamental, p 216).
Following our discussion in these two chapters it ought to be possible to formulate a credo on miracles, maybe as follows:
PRAYER AND THE MIRACULOUS
(This chapter, above all others in this book, the author craves to get over to the reader as a heart-to- heart talk, he believing prayer is the great moving-force of the world, able to tap the spiritual reservoir of the universe and to unleash divine power adequate for the utmost needs of men and nations.)
The aim of this chapter is mainly to boost the reader's faith in prayer as a personal and cosmic force available to meet all the personal and corporate needs of the Church in such a critical time as the present. We shall seek (1) to draw the line against all miraculous claims that cannot pass the closest scrutiny; (2) to show how far science supports a rationale of prayer and miracle; (3) to examine critically some of the alleged miracles in answer to prayer, and (4) to consider whether there is not evidence that beyond the ultimates of science there is an unseen realm in which miracles are natural and likely.
Prayer and Miracle under Fire
We repeat here the caution against all doubtful claims for the miraculous. For we are never to forget that all claims for the miraculous in the Bible or in Christianity will be subjected to the test of fire by atheistic communism, pledged to destroy Christianity and its Bible. And we are face to face with the stark fact that the religion of Communism is bidding all too successfully for the faith of mankind. Indeed at this moment the battle is going against us. Nation after nation continues to be drawn from the orbit of the Western and "Christian" nations into the orbit of Godless Communism. China, with its billion plus people, for a century the pride and boast of missionary achievement, has gone over bag and baggage with nearly all its one-time Christian colleges, their professors now turning their guns on us as deceivers and exploiters of weaker peoples. Southeast Asia at the moment seems likely to follow, for the truce granted us in Korea appears likely now to have been but a ruse aimed at concentrating communist forces on the conquest of the vast rich area of southeast Asia. Also the communist snarling of peace negotiations up to the present is likely but a part of a long-range policy to keep the pressure on the Western nations till they collapse in financial chaos and ruin, which is viewed as the coveted field-day for communism.
An informed Christianity today will go before the court of world opinion with no claim for prayer and the miraculous that will be vulnerable before the hostile fire of the waxing religion of communism. We should pare away with alacrity every claim that is at all doubtful for the miraculous in the Old Testament or the New.
When Miracle Is a Burden
Taking the Old Testament as a whole, we find a core of the miraculous that must be held as essential. It is God omnipotent working in Israel's deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and then with love and yearning continuing to shape Israel's history toward the "one far-off divine event." But around this central core of miracle undoubtedly time built up a halo of magic and miracle that we do well to treat as peripheral and unessential. Friendly critics of the highest caliber frankly concede it. Such glorifying of the past is simply inherent in the historical process. It should be conceded ungrudgingly and without fear. Time put a halo of magic and miracle round the great events and heroes of Greece and Rome. So of the saints of the Church. The Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier never claimed to have worked any miracle, nor did his coworkers claim any miracle for him while he lived. But after his death, round him was fabricated a galaxy of miracles. So of Mohammed, who claimed no miracle; but after his death claims were made for him that he made the sun stand still, that he drew water from a rock, and fed thousands miraculously. A halo of miracles in time grew up round the boy Jesus, making him out a little god among his playmates. Dr. Rufus Jones declared that he quit telling the story of a haunted house because he found that with each telling he added new imagined details.
In the war to the death with the fanatical religion of Communism we will be much stronger if we frankly pare away much that has masqueraded as miraculous in Israel's early history, and say strongly to critics, "Do what you will with Pharaoh's plagues-frankly some of them to us are ethically embarrassing and are degrading to the God Jesus revealed; do what you will to certain details of the Red Sea miracle, to the marvels at Sinai, to the guiding pillars of fire and cloud, to the water from the rock at the stroke of Moses' rod-cut away all such details, and we still have left the core of the miraculous that ever remained in Israel's eyes the absolute proof that God had been with them in omnipotence; nor will the judgement of mankind lightly deny it!"
Wise defenders of the Bible and Christianity will be content to let critics pare away peripheral miracles as they will from the Old Testament as a whole; yet there will remain the Exodus and Israel's entire history as one mighty miracle. Let critics pare away what peripheral miracles they will from even the New Testament; yet there will remain the stupendous miracle of God incarnate in Jesus, and his amazing life and death and resurrection. On that alone Christianity can rest as secure as Gibraltar.
Nor will wise defenders of Christianity lightly call those events miracles that might easily be regarded as natural occurrences or coincidences. They will reserve the term miracle for an extraordinary happening, or else one attested by some extraordinary experience.
Science Friendly to Prayer and Miracle
Already it has been noted (Chapters Ten, Eleven) that fifty years have brought a marked change in the attitude of science to religion and the miraculous. The earlier dogmatism is gone, and some scientists of the highest caliber are ready frankly to concede that there are "gaps" in the uniformity of nature, or "crevices" in the once "closed system" of the universe, allowing room for miracle and prayer. Sir Arthur Eddington, speaking as a scientist, says to the religious man claiming an experience of reality in the Unseen, "If you claim any deeper insight . . . any knowledge of what it really is . . . , you may rest assured that I have no rival interpretation" (quoted in Science and Religion, Pupin, p. 122).
In 1913, while Sir Oliver Lodge enjoyed the highest repute as a scientist, in his presidential address before the British Society for the Promotion of Science, he made a remarkable appeal to religious people to hold firmly to their faith in prayer as "an engine of achievement," and not to be swept off their feet by the claim of scientists that the reign of law left no room for prayer and miracle. He declared that science was incompetent to speak in a field it had not explored. He was sure God would not break law to answer prayer, but declared science dared not say that God had no way to answer prayer and even work miracles according to law. He said many of the noblest of earth have been sure they reached God and received answers to prayer; let them trust their noblest faculties at their highest, he urged. For all that science or any human knows, God may be a part of the entire structure of things, and able to hear and answer prayer according to laws unknown to us (Lodge, Science and Immortality, Chapters I-III). It was an address acclaimed round the world by Christian people for its appeal to scientists not to be "arrogant," but to be tolerant and sympathetic toward the claims of persons declaring they had an experience of reaching God in the unknown (Literary Digest, Oct. 4, 1913).
Jesus as Authority
Jesus goes beyond all men of science in his confidence that prayer can work miracles. He declared there was nothing too hard to be accomplished if only faith were strong enough (Mt. 21:21; Mark 11:23; Luke 17:6). He himself prayed at the grave of Lazarus and was sure his prayer would be answered, and it was (John 11:41). We can understand in part his insistence on faith as a condition for the working of miracles. He was powerless to do many mighty works in his home town because people lacked faith in him (Mt. 13:58; Mark 6:5). But he left no doubt that, given the right conditions, prayer can effect miracles.
And this is the faith confidently preached by many persons of the highest repute out of their own experience today. The nationally known radio preacher, Norman Vincent Peale, alike in his books and in his radio addresses constantly cites cases of miraculous healing of body and mind, and of lives transformed as a result of prayer. The healing cults hold it up as their stock in trade that prayer works miracles. All manner of miracles wrought by prayer are in the avowed experience of a multitude of people.
"Miraculous" Answers to Prayer
We relate several instances that, to human knowledge, seem miraculous answers to prayer. The sceptic may cavil, and the psychologist may often give what appears to be a scientific explanation, but usually the one having such experiences is sure he knows the explanation: he met God in the unknown.
The psychologist Jung has said that religious experience is absolute; there is no disputing it. It is Tennyson's "I have felt" asserting itself imperiously above all darkness and doubt. The scientist or any other human may object, "I never had such an experience," and the one who has had it is ready with the ringing answer, "I'm sorry, but I have!"
An interesting instance is told by George Sava, noted surgeon and author, in Reader's Digest for March, 1954. He was summoned in haste to the hospital. He found a man with an arm frightfully crushed between freight cars, the skin gone, the muscles torn and mangled. The only thing sensible was to amputate. To try to save the arm would leave but one chance in a hundred of saving the man's life. The doctors thought anything but amputation would be almost criminal.
The patient couldn't speak, but the surgeon was caught by a wonderful appeal in his eyes-appeal, as he believed, not to amputate. And this decided him-with a strange confidence that his hunch was right. At the end of a three-and-a-half hour operation, the man was more dead than alive.
Many months later he was as well as ever, and he and his wife came to see the surgeon. The doctor said to the wife, "If he had died on the table, you might rightly have cursed me for attempting the impossible."
The man said, "That's where you're wrong. I know why you did what you did. I don't often pray, sir, but I did-as hard as I could. I asked God to tell you not to amputate my arm. And God was good to me, sir. He told you what to do-and you did it!"
The surgeon was sure it was the man's prayer that led him to take the chance which was one-in-a-hundred, contrary to all medical science.
A Personal Experience
Perhaps nearly everyone once or more in a lifetime has had a singular experience that left an unshakable conviction of having met God, an experience that is remembered gratefully as one of life's highest moments. The psychologist might regard it as commonplace, with an easy explanation. But not so the one who felt it and was sure it was out of the Unknown.
This writer modestly relates one which, simple as it is, stands out from the dull landscape like a mountain peak. He had come to an impasse in the writing of one of the chapters of this book. He went to bed oppressed with the barrier that stood in his way. Several hours later he awoke, and on his knees for half an hour he prayed for illumination as he seldom has in his life. Then followed peaceful sleep.
He awoke in the morning with almost a feeling of elation. The barrier had disappeared as completely as if it had never been. It even seemed strange that there had ever seemed to be a block in the way. The psychologist is ready with a simple explanation; but there can be no shaking of the conviction that one met God and something came out of the infinite.
How God Answers Prayer
How God answers prayer is only incidental to our main subject. But science begins to marvel at the evidence that God sometimes answers prayer in a way never suspected till recently. Sir Oliver Lodge noted it, that beyond question we sometimes reach people at a distance by waves of telepathy and influence them to answer our prayers directly.
Frank C. Laubach in Prayer, the Mightiest Force in the World declared he had tested this theory over and over. In traveling he had singled out someone at a distance in the car and prayed hard for him, and repeatedly the man would turn and look significantly at him; or for the woman in the seat in front of him, and she would turn and ask him abruptly a question about religion. He believes we are at times like a radio tuned to catch thoughts and impressions from near or far-to catch yearnings and prayers going out for us from other hearts.
Dr. J. B. Rhyne's experiments now for many years in parapsychology in Duke University have brought him many strange experiences of mysterious communications between persons at great distances from each other. Some of them were given in an article in Reader's Digest for March, 1949, reproduced from the American Magazine, under the title "Things I Can't Explain." Sir Oliver Lodge also probed deeply into the mysteries of the unseen and was sure of the reality of prevision and telepathy as means of communication at a distance, and saw no reason as a scientist why God might not have even agents to intervene and effect answers to prayer.
Two Strange Experiences
I pass on two unimpeachable stories of answered prayer told to me by highly esteemed friends. One was a Methodist lay preacher, and the story was a sacred heirloom handed down from his godly grandmother in North Carolina in the days before there was any communication with Georgia by wire, and mails were few. Daily and often she knelt in prayer in North Carolina for the conversion of her son in Georgia.
At last, as she knelt, a strange definite certainty was borne in on her that she need pray no longer; her prayer was already answered. From that moment she could no more pray for his conversion. She quit praying for it and waited confidently for news from him of his conversion. In a week or so from Georgia came a letter from him to her home in North Carolina with the message she confidently expected. It said, "On a certain date I had gone to a camp meeting; I resisted the impression to surrender to God, got on my horse and started to ride away. But an irresistible impression came to me to go back. I went back, knelt at the altar and surrendered my life to God. It was at blank hour of blank day."
Up to this point the incident has little significance. What gives point to it is this. The mother figured, and found that the time of the reported conversion was at the exact time when, on her knees hundreds of miles distant, the impression came irresistibly that he was converted.
The other incident is of a Christian woman of the highest caliber, teacher of a class of young women in the Methodist church, and a social leader in her town of Washington, N. C. One summer I was interim pastor for a month of the First Baptist church in the town of 10,000, the pastor away for a summer course of study. One day a leading member of the Baptist church said to me, "You must meet Mrs. ; she has had a great experience you must hear." She took me to see the woman referred to.
Almost abruptly I said at once, "I learn you have had a great experience; please tell me about it."
She took from the mantel a framed picture of an exceptionally handsome youth in the uniform of a military academy. Holding it before her, as she sat on the sofa, her eyes on it with rapt attention, she told her story without a tremor, and with an intensity of earnestness that disarmed all doubt, and left one sure it was one of the great experiences of a soul that had suffered deeply.
"He went to heaven one bright morning," she began. "The desolation seemed more than I could bear. Next day in agony I prayed, 'O Lord, do let me see him-just once; please send him to me!'"
I broke in, "It was a large order on God!"
"I knew it was," she said. "But I knew God is good-and he could do it! And it seemed to me I could not live without it."
"That very night, about to fall asleep, I heard beside me a voice, 'Mother!' I sat up, and there beside me he stood in all the beauty and glory of the heavenly world! He spoke; 'Mother, I can make beautiful music now!' And he played for me the most exquisite music. And he described for me the beauty of the place he came from. Oh, the ineffable peace that came! And it has never left me from that moment. He lingered long beside me, and it seemed like heaven!"
The story as she told it was irresistible. I ventured to ask, "Do people here consider you a sane woman?" "Yes, I think they do," she said; "but few have ever heard me refer to it. It seems too sacred, and my neighbors couldn't understand, and would doubt."
I left with a sense of having been in the vestibule of the heavenly world, and heard things unlawful to utter. At lunch that day at the private boarding house, I told the strange experience to a group of neighbors. A lady said, "Do you know she wrote a poem about it?" Presently from her home nearby she brought a booklet of the woman's printed poems and showed me her poetic rendering of the incident. Here are the opening and closing lines:
"Things we can't explain!" There seem to be indeed "crevices" in the wall shutting off our sight from the Unseen World. And prayer somehow goes through and does things. Millions of the noblest that have lived have verily found it so. We seem sometimes to catch the sounds of voices in friendly greeting, and perchance wistful pleadings. Ours is not a "closed universe," as these millions have thankfully declared out of their certain experience. Jesus worked miracles. They haven't ceased. Science more and more inclines to concede that somehow messages go out from us, sometimes as surely as from a broadcasting station, sometimes to be picked up by other beings, even as the radio picks up messages and music out of the Unseen. We do well to make the most of prayer, and to keep the way open between us and the mysterious Unknown. Truly "it is a mysterious universe, and dogmatism is indecent!" Let us follow thankfully the light we have.
At the Portal of the Unseen
Science and religion alike stand at the portal of the mysterious Unseen, confessing they have but barely begun to explore what lies within. Stretching beyond the sounds we can hear and the light we can see are many octaves of sound and of light beyond our ken, many such waves being now picked up by our delicate instruments like the radio and the X-ray apparatus, yet leaving many waves still shading off toward the infinite in both directions, even as other worlds stretch away in all directions from our own solar system. Who can guess what lies beyond our ken in this vast Unknown! Science probes into this Unknown, and is able to take note of only physical facts, while leaving a spiritual realm untouched by all its most powerful or most delicate instruments. The Saints and Mystics through the centuries have declared as a matter beyond all doubt that they have sent out tendrils to deal with the Reality that the Mystics say they actually experience in the Unknown: Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Love, a personal God who hears and answers prayer. Few doubt that these things are quite as real as matter.
Verities in the Mysterious Unseen
We now reach a startling venture of faith, and lay down a startling proposition: Beyond the Ultimates Known to Science is a Realm in Which Miracles are Likely. But if miracles do occur in that realm, most likely they also conform to laws as yet unknown. Concerning the realities in the realm of the Unseen, science is as yet incompetent to speak. Mystery hangs over it, but some things we can affirm:
Phenomena that Make Answers to Prayer Credible
Many of the phenomena of nature make answers to prayer seem credible. Many persons now living will recall an event in 1909 that sent a thrill round the world like an electric shock. It was the first event of the kind in history. In mid-Atlantic the Florida had rammed the Republic and given it a death wound. On board sat J. R. Binns, touching the key of a wireless instrument while the ship was sinking under him. "What foolery!" all the world would have said; "since time began such folly was never seen! To think that by touching the key of a dead instrument on board a sinking ship, calls for help could be carried hundreds of miles across the tossing waves-and without a wire!" But a "miracle" actually happened. Unseen fingers picked up those feeble signals, and instantly over a radius of 150 miles ships wheeled round in mid-ocean and went speeding straight to the spot where aboard a sinking ship frantic people prayed for deliverance from a grave in the deep.
Help arrived in time; not a soul went down with the ship. It seemed one of the miracles of all the ages. But it was no miracle in the sense of a direct intervention of God or a breach of law. God had indeed worked a "miracle" in advance in revealing to men the laws of wireless telegraphy, and Binns only made use of those laws. Man has since applied the principle in millions of radio sets-that most amazing, ceaseless "miracle" that has made civilization over! And how like the soul sending into the mysterious Unknown a prayer for help, and somehow getting the answer! Who knows the how of either? Perhaps it is as irrational to doubt one as the other!
PROGRESSIVE REVELATION FULFILLED IN CHRIST
This book throughout has viewed the Old Testament revelation as partial and as ever progressing toward its fulfillment in Christ. And all along Christ has been held in view as the moral criterion by which to judge all Scripture, all character, all conduct of persons and peoples. This final chapter aims to answer three questions:
Israel's Dream of "The Coming One"
The entire Old Testament is like a sign post pointing to Christ. Israel's hope of salvation through "the coming One" persisted even through defeat, ruin and captivity. The coming Messiah would not only be a Deliverer from Israel's everpresent enemies; he would also be a person of Godlike attributes, the Ideal Man. The hope at its highest was that he would be God-in-the-Flesh, Immanuel. Knowledge of this exalted hope spread from Israel to other peoples. It became the dream of some "Wise Men of the East" and brought them to Jerusalem seeking for one to be born King of the Jews.
In time a mysterious child was born at Bethlehem, heralded by certain strange signs. He grew up in obscurity at Nazareth, and at the age of 30 he blazed out with superhuman powers, and for three short years was a national sensation, was acclaimed and followed by vast multitudes. Then, because he refused utterly to become a partisan leader, the people deserted him, and the jealous rulers crucified him as a nonconformist and felon. All the bright hopes of his followers dissolved like a burst bubble-until the mysterious Man repeatedly appeared to them alive, and finally thrilled them with a regal challenge to go everywhere proclaiming that he was alive and on high, and would come back to earth as Lord and Judge.
Strangely enough, from that hour a new era began in the life of mankind. Beyond doubt from that hour those disheartened disciples were transformed, and still more completely some weeks later, while they waited together praying and confidently expecting a sign from heaven. Nor were they disappointed. For suddenly there came a mysterious outpouring of God's Spirit upon them. From that hour, with an enthusiasm and a daring that amazed all who heard, and with a power manifestly from God, they began to preach "Jesus and the resurrection," and did miraculous deeds of healing, declaring these were the proof that Christ was alive and showing his power through them.
Such men and such a message proved irresistible, and thousands were convinced and converted, and joined the ranks of the disciples of the risen Christ. And those looking on could not deny that here was something new-a society of believers living such a life as had never been seen on earth before, a people bursting with an inner life of love and gladness and power, and testifying with one voice that this new life of joy and power sprang solely from Christ crucified and risen and living in them.
Soon this new religion stirred the bitter opposition of the rival heathen
religions, and called out all the might of the Roman Empire to destroy it. But with the same triumphant joy these disciples met the jaws of lions and the sword and flame of their enemies, yet strangely dying with a smile and a prayer for those that killed them. Thus they went on dying, yet multiplying, through 300 dreadful years of torture, till their enemies wore themselves out, and the Emperor Constantine acknowledged that the power of the Empire was no match for a people with a mysterious power to live and to die in joy and triumph; and so he made this strange new religion the preferred religion of the Empire.
From first to last, this is the story of what came to be known as the early Church, the story of a people who declared in one voice that this amazing power to live and die was simply the story of Christ risen and exalted and working in them the miracle of a new life adequate for anything in life or death.
From this as a starting point, we now seek to answer the first question posed: Is the Christ of the New Testament such a person as to fulfill the highest dreams of the past, and worthy to be acclaimed as universal Lord and Judge?
I. CHRIST WORTHY OF WORSHIP AS LORD
The answer to the question stated above must be twofold: (1) Was Jesus actually the best man that ever lived on earth? (2) Has he proved himself the most influential person in human history?
1. Jesus Christ the Paragon of Goodness
As the perfect paragon of goodness Jesus is without a peer among all the world's immortals. Even his bitterest enemies never brought against him any charge of moral wrong. They sneered, "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them!" They charged bitterly that he broke the law of the Sabbath by healing the sick on that day. But millions in every age have loved him because such charges were true. The moral judgement of mankind applauds him for being "a friend of publicans and sinners," and for living and dying for them.
We dare to affirm that, of all that ever lived, he alone "did no sin" (I Peter 2:22). He alone dared to look all men in the face and ask, "Which of you convict me of sin?" (John 8:46). He was not only "separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26), he was apart from all saints. The noblest saints tell us how, through long years of penitence and struggle, they reached saintliness. Jesus, alone among all the good, never once confessed to one sin, or even to one mistake in word or deed. Horace Bushnell shows strikingly (Character of Jesus) that Jesus simply unfolded like "a celestial flower" from a perfect childhood into a perfect manhood. Four honest gospel writers, separately and without collusion, present Jesus as one who never in an unguarded moment made one slip, or committed one fault, in word or act. It is a thing unique in all the world's biographies. And, in so presenting him, they make the story seem, not strained and artificial, but natural and true to life. And any slight variations of the writers (p. 26) still leave him untouched as the perfect moral paragon. But to be sinless, marvelous though it is, is only negative goodness. Jesus put into the concept of goodness a positive quality unknown before among men. He put into sinlessness or moral purity a passion for holiness that was like a fire burning against every semblance of evil. And he shows us that quality of holiness in his own life, and leaves in us a disturbing conviction that a Christian ought to be like that.
And he showed us in his own life an entirely new concept of love. He made it universal. Hitherto it had been counted a virtue to hate an enemy, even a foreigner. Plato approved of an "unadulterated hate" of a foreigner. Jesus made the positive love of even enemies the supreme law of life. And by his own compelling example he showed us how, and in doing so made love a new creation in the world.
Still more, he made forgiveness a basic law of life, and dramatized it for all time by praying for his crucifiers, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). It was so new that it may perhaps rightly be called "the most distinct innovation that Jesus made in morality" (Carnegie Simpson, The Fact of Christ). And Sir J. R. Seeley is right in saying (Ecce Homo) that Christ made forgiveness seem so new and essential in Christian morality that when we say one has a Christian spirit, it is generally taken to mean a forgiving spirit.
Yet again, Jesus added to Goodness the new and unique virtue of humility; even more, he showed us in his own life that to be great is to be humble, and a servant to others. Hitherto, man had thought that to be great was to swell and strut and dominate other people. Jesus, in taking the place of servant and washing the disciples' feet, and in delighting to be called "a friend of publicans and sinners" , made humility appear to be a thing so beautiful that the world can never escape from the spell of it.
Once more, Christ made goodness seem only negative and empty unless it expresses itself in complete self-sacrifice for others. In a striking passage in the book named, Sir J. R. Seeley shows that what mastered Paul and wins the applause of mankind was Christ's "temperance in the use of supernatural power," refusing, as he did, to use it for himself, but devoting it solely to others. Seeley calls that "the masterpiece of Christ." He shows that Christ won the hearts and the worship of his followers most of all because they saw him wield superhuman power, equal to raising the dead, stilling the storm, or destroying his enemies, yet utterly refusing to save himself from suffering and death. Seeing this, men were melted to wondering admiration and gratitude. They could not escape the conviction that he endured and suffered and at last gave himself up to die in agony, when they knew he had power to escape it all! And clearly he did it for others. Therefore it seemed clearly to put them "under an immense obligation"! Amazed admiration and gratitude broke forth in enthusiastic surrender and obedience (Seeley: Ecce Homo, pp. 38-41).
All this is in the quality of goodness seen in Jesus, goodness without a flaw and as high as heaven, setting him forth as completely worthy of our worship, and more than fulfilling all past dreams of "the coming One."
2. Christ the Mightiest Force in History
If the goodness of Jesus is unique, equally so is the power of his influence in history. As already indicated, a new era for humanity began from the hour of his exaltation and the enduement of his disciples at Pentecost. The amazing power of Christ in the Church began indeed to make the world over. The new power of Christians to live and die proved in 300 years to be the anvil on which the heathen religions and the Roman Empire wore themselves out. The power of the new religion began actually to "lift empires off their hinges," and to "turn the stream of centuries out of its channel" (Jean Paul Richter). People began to throw away their calendars and strangely to date their historic events from the birth of a babe born in a stable in Bethlehem!
The beautiful moral ideals seen in the character of Jesus and reproduced in his disciples began mightily to change customs and to soften manners among all peoples. Says Leckey (History of European Morals), "The three short years" of the active life of Jesus have "done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists" (Vol. II, p. 9). Green in his History of the English People declares that, with the printing of the Bible in the language of the plain people and their eager reading of it, the whole temper of the nation was changed in a few decades. Primarily it was the transforming power of the character and life of Jesus felt in the Gospels. Likewise "the miracles of missions" tell the same story for many other peoples round the world even down to our day.
Indeed a glance at world history shows this outstanding fact: the world has changed, and the change is historically traceable to Christ. It justifies an affirmative answer to question one: Jesus, both as the paragon of all goodness, and as the mightiest force in human history, shows himself "worthy to be acclaimed as universal Lord and Judge," and as the fulfillment of all the noblest dreams of the past.
II. CHRIST: A REDEEMER ADEQUATE FOR OUR TIMES
To show Jesus adequate for our time requires us to show him a complete savior of individuals and of nations.
The present is a time, not of atheism, but of an almost universal agnosticism. People believe in God, but don't know what to believe about a way out of the present world chaos and near-despair. It is often remarked truly that the Christian religion has been tried for nineteen centuries, but that the religion of Christ has yet to be tried. This is depressingly true. But that fact is itself large with hope. Having tried all else, we feel surer that he is the way out. May we not dare to hope and to pray that the world's desperate plight may yet move the world actually to give Christ a chance to show what he can do? Even many non-Christian people believe indeed that Jesus, if given a fair chance, would lead the world out of its present chaos and despair. After many years in India, Dr. E. Stanley Jones, wrote that an earnest Hindu said to him, "There is no one else who is seriously bidding for the heart of the world except Jesus Christ. There is no one else on the field" (Christ of the Indian Road, p. 46). Virtually all the world seems agreed on this except those who blindly follow Karl Marx-their hope being one obviously doomed to ultimate failure, because it is a hope placed in crass materialism, and ignores the deep needs of the human soul.
1. Christ Adequate to Make Individuals New
To show Christ's adequacy to meet the world's present need requires a twofold demonstration: (1) Has he proved his unique ability to save individuals? (2) Has he shown a unique ability to redeem nations and civilizations?
In answer to question one, countless millions, from the days of the earliest disciples down to the present, have borne convincing testimony that Christ is a complete Savior. And we can even understand how he saves.
For it is easy to discern in the person of Jesus a moral power adequate to master and transform men that is nothing less than miraculous. And that power is seen to inhere in something miraculous in what Jesus is in his divine person. This is a fact needing no demonstration. In his presence the sincere soul simply feels it, and comes under the spell of it. This is a truth impressively stated by Carnegie Simpson in The Fact of Christ. One is challenged simply to face Christ as the divine man of the Gospels and Epistles, and to expose himself to the mysterious, marvelous person Jesus is and to put him to the test. If this be sincerely done, and done with abandon, one begins to feel something marvelous going on within him.
In doing so, one begins by asking himself, "What do I honestly think of Christ?" If deeply in earnest, as he gazes on this stainless, majestic, mysterious Person, he begins to feel morally dissected and judged. He realizes that he began intellectually to examine Christ; if deeply earnest, he ends by feeling, in spite of himself, "I ought to be like him; and, if I stay near him, I must be a better man." One who does this without evasion and with a surrendered will is sure to experience the beginning of a "changed life." Jesus himself is the supreme Miracle that effects through the Spirit the miracle of regeneration. This is the heart of our religion: Jesus only. It would be a pity to emphasize as essential anything else, even the virgin birth. He himself is the miracle of Christianity, even apart from how he was born-just as the created universe is the miracle apart from how it was created (See page 1)!
During the past hundred years the world's biblical scholarship, both conservative and liberal, has done its best and its worst to fathom the person and place of Christ in the New Testament, seeking to present a credible portrait of him. The result is twofold: (1) We are less sure than we once were that the Gospels record the exact words of Jesus in general, or give us an exact portrait of him (see p. 62); (2) We are even surer than before that he is the center and the soul of all the New Testament, the marvelous Person who lived as never man lived, and who spoke as never man spoke, and who did Godlike deeds; moreover, that to the apostles, the New Testament writers, and to the entire early church he was the very Christ of God, crucified, risen, and exalted, and worthy to be worshiped as Lord, and so fully able to redeem and transform every son of man.
2. Christ Adequate to Redeem Nations and Civilizations
At this point we come face to face with a situation utterly without a parallel in human history, a situation nothing less than terrifying. The world's statesmen grope, and are at their wits' end. The world is in a panic, yet goes on using the same old shibboleths about national defense, about armies and navies and war, yet frightfully aware that such words have lost their meaning. For almost suddenly war has come to mean nothing less than world suicide. And indeed statesmen and the multitude are in a panic, with terror in the air!
Just behind us is Hiroshima, where in a moment America turned a city to dust and rubble and snuffed out 67,000 lives! And a few weeks ago a new fright, when we exploded in mid-Pacific an H-bomb that caused to sink out of sight an island of many square miles, plowed deep into the ocean floor, and killed fish and endangered human life 200 miles distant. And now fast on the heels of all that comes terrifying talk about the Cobalt bomb, hundreds of times more deadly than the H-bomb, able (as some scientists warn) to start a lethal wave round the earth, maybe capable of destroying all life on the planet! To human eyes the way ahead looks as black as midnight.
With that blackness before him, this writer paused several weeks earnestly seeking light before attempting to write the last pages of this book. For it seemed to him unthinkable, even stultifying, to conclude a book on Christ as the fulfillment of revelation, without definitely urging that Christ is the way and the only way for the nations out of the present midnight darkness. Surely God's "progressive revelation" did not end with the Bible. It continues today. And not only for individuals, but for nations, even in this midnight hour.
While waiting and praying for light, I did two things: First, I read again (besides the Bible) the remarkable old book, which has sold and yet sells by the million, In His Steps to orient my thinking to Sheldon's inescapable question, "What would Jesus do?" Second, I sent out a questionnaire to certain men and women near and far, trusted for their Christian wisdom. The heart of it was the question, "In the present critical hour precisely what must the Church do, if the impending world catastrophe is to be averted?" Especially the Church in America?
Some replies were peripheral, but some went to the heart of reality in the present world crisis. An able theological professor and author in a distant state went wide of the mark. His reply was conventional: "Deep repentance; preach Christ; win people to him-one by one. There's no other way!"
I reminded him the world might blow up even while we are on our knees, and before we win to Christ more than a handful out of the mass! "Isn't there something we can do quickly to prevent a world explosion?" He replied humbly, "You are right; obviously I missed the boat!"
Others were near to saying, "We can't do anything; it is all settled by prophecy-prophecy of 'the last times'; our only hope is in Christ's coming quickly and ending all the sorry mess!"
But didn't Christ solemnly charge his disciples and all the Church, I ask, to go into the thick of "the sorry mess" of their evil time and change it? And didn't they indeed succeed amazingly by loving and suffering and dying-and actually conquer through 300 wonderful years? The fame of their success is undying, showing what a suffering Church can do in any sorry mess!
The frightened world, including its statesmen, is ready to listen, if in penitence and heart-searching the Church's leaders speak with the tone of authority. In such a midnight hour in history as the present, has the Church no proposal to make with the note of authority? Will the Church fail God and humanity-in such a time?
Christ in history has demonstrated his power to lead us out of the present evil time, if only his people will pay the price of following him. Those early Christians conquered a mighty empire simply through love and suffering-to-the-death; in our day a little unclad saint in India conquered another world empire and won Indian independence by refusal to use force, and by love to the death.
To the eye of faith today, it does not seem irrational to see the Christ of history standing among the nations calm, unafraid, majestic, saying as in the storm on Galilee, "Fear not, only follow me!" Those early Christians followed him during 300 dreadful years, while satanic hate, the jaws of lions and all the might of the Roman Empire did their worst to destroy them, but in vain! Even now, with the nations poised for a plunge over the precipice, hope in him as a Savior of nations and of civilization does not seem absurd. Christ offers the Church a way out of the present darkness. Will his Church heed?
III. CHRIST'S INFINITE RESOURCES AVAILABLE ON CONDITION
After all, my questionnaire brought me no specific plan of action. This was to be expected. Where the greatest Christian statesmen grope and fumble and disagree on techniques, it would be folly to expect any small group to offer an easy way to a solution on a world scale. The challenge is to all the Church on its knees, especially the Church in America. For was it not America, highly favored of God, that first discovered and mastered the secret of atomic energy, perfected and exploded the atomic bomb, and started the other nations on the mad race of atomic armament, which now threatens to destroy civilization, and maybe to blot out all life on the planet! We should now confess humbly to the sin of being first to harness God's almost omnipotent power to the wholesale destruction of his footstool, and starting humanity on a race toward the precipice.
America failed God! It cannot deny nor evade it, nor can it escape responsibility for the impending world catastrophe, which would spell the ruin of nations, including herself. Will she not on her knees in deep penitence offer the jittery world some proposal for breaking the vicious circle she started? Has the Church in "Christian" America no bona fide proposal for a way of escape from the precipice she built, a way that she herself will agree to follow? America failed God by choosing the way of atomic destruction; will not the Church in America lead in some path away from destruction? It is God's supreme call to the Church in America, a call verily to save the world in a sense never dreamed of before from a frightful plunge over the precipice to colossal ruin!
The compelling exigency of the present world situation demands nothing less than that every church in America, first of all, shall on its knees in penitence send up to heaven a humble, insistent cry for light on how to avoid impending world catastrophe. Prophetic voices of the Church's leaders over America should without delay call a vast assembly of Christians to agonize together without ceasing until some definite "plan of action" is arrived at for America first of all to follow, at no matter what cost, and no matter what other nations do! At this writing, the World Council of Churches is soon to meet in Evanston, Illinois. Will it be able to speak with a voice of authority that statesmen will listen to as the voice of God? Somehow the Church in America must definitely face this issue of the hour and speak the mind of Christ.
Answers to my questionnaire left me clear about certain things. War is madness-simply world suicide. Speedily world wrongs must be righted that inevitably engender poverty and hunger, bitterness and despair; result, chaos and communism. Speedily the vaunting airs of superiority of race over race must give way to the Christian view that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Just now the epoch-making Court Decision challenges "Christian" America to solve its race problem calmly and religiously, and to adjust itself to this demand of Christ's gospel of universal brotherhood. Every pulpit in the land should so preach. Religion is of the essence of the solution.
At this writing the newspapers of the nation, both secular and religious, report a strange and touching religious phenomenon. The American evangelist Billy Graham has just closed a 3-month evangelistic campaign in London, where people had almost quit going to church, and were strongly biased against evangelists and evangelism. But they had not been able to forget the recent rain of bombs that nearly destroyed London, nor the horror of "the next war." And daily for three months London turned out almost in mass, as if desperately eager to learn what religion has to offer as a last hope in a time of impending catastrophe. The world had never seen such crowds hang on the words of any preacher, 200,000 people jamming two vast stadia the last day.
The present grim outlook for the world might well send men flocking in multitudes to the Christ of history and experience to offer him a chance to show what he can do alike for individuals and nations.
It is a situation to challenge every Christian in America to send up constantly the agonizing cry, "O God, search the heart of America, and speedily reveal a way to save both itself and other nations!" For world catastrophe hangs in mid-air. God, angels and the redeemed bend down eager, pitying, pleading. Will not the Church in America agonize, point the way for groping statesmen, and turn threatened catastrophe into triumph? For that role of leadership Christ bought his Church with his blood.